Second Harvest Food Bank has a new leader, and Grey Bears is looking for its next.
Second Harvest on April 21 announced that Erica Padilla-Chavez will take the helm as CEO in July after Willy Elliot-McCrea retires, and as the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary. That announcement came just two days after longtime Grey Bears Executive Director, Tim Brattan, announced that he would retire by the end of the year, bringing an end to his 12-year tenure with the nonprofit.
In accepting the position, Padilla-Chavez will leave her post as CEO of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance.
“I’m excited to be able to lend my skills and share my gifts with the talented team at Second Harvest, and the vast group of volunteers and community leaders and partners that have been addressing food insecurity issues in Santa Cruz County,” she says.
Her new position, she says, will allow her to continue her mission of advancing community-wide health and wellness by seeking to address the causes of hunger.
“In this opportunity, not only will I be able to continue providing continued access to food, but to work with community partners to address those root causes,” she says.
Under Brattan’s leadership, Grey Bears’ programs have grown to serve 4,500 seniors and thousands of business and residential customers throughout Santa Cruz County.
Since 1973, the organization’s Healthy Food program has delivered 110 million pounds of food and served more than 1 million meals to seniors, families, veterans and farmworkers. Their thrift stores, electronics refurbishing and recycling programs have diverted 250,000 tons of materials from waste streams to reduce the county’s collective carbon footprint. Thousands of mostly senior volunteers socialized while donating 3 million hours of service to make it all possible.
“It’s been such a privilege to have helped expand Grey Bears’ impact,” Brattan says. “Through the pandemic, CZU Complex fire and steep rise in basic living costs, meeting the need for food, meals, household items and opportunities to volunteer and socially connect are more important than ever—especially for those in our growing aging community.”
Brattan came aboard shortly after the Great Recession when “things really spiked, need grew quickly for food distribution and deliveries.”
“At the same time, there’s been this tsunami of aging in general across the country. It’s been a really interesting time,” Brattan says. “The last 12 years have been deeply fulfilling, challenging and exciting.”
Brattan says that the most rewarding part of the job has been the people he has worked with, who have helped the organization move forward through many different challenges, from expanding its physical infrastructure to the fallout of the pandemic.
“From the people we serve to those who work here, our donors, people who bring us donations from their offices and homes,” he says, “all of our partners in our community who help support our work. We’ve got a fantastic board [of directors], the best we’ve ever had, at least in my tenure. They’re really skilled, with great vision and resources to get us over our next benchmark.”
Brattan says he is tentatively set to leave in October, but the exact date is up in the air. He has plenty of personal projects planned for retirement—he teaches yoga, so he hopes to continue that, and will possibly do some traveling with his wife.
“Sometimes it’s important to unplug from something that you’re so deeply immersed in for so long in order to get perspective,” he says. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Before then, Brattan says he hopes to aid Grey Bears in continuing to meet the needs of the community.
“Leaving is bittersweet,” Brattan says. “I’ve been thinking about those who came before me for 49 years. I’m only the fourth executive director, which speaks to our organization’s strengths and what a joy it is to be part of it.”
Padilla-Chavez’s move is somewhat of a homecoming for the Watsonville native. She attended local schools and graduated from Watsonville High School in 1994. She received her bachelor’s in sociology from UC Berkeley and a master’s in public administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
She currently sits on Dominican Hospital’s Community Board, and is a member of RISE Together Santa Cruz County, an initiative from the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County that aims to advance racial equity in the region.
In addition, she is a member of the Hartnell College Board of Trustees, and has held multiple board positions throughout the Central Coast, including Radio Bilingue and the Community Foundation of Monterey County.
“I can’t imagine a better person than Erica to lead Second Harvest forward to the next level. She has a truly impressive track record of building partnerships and a life-long passion to ensure health and well-being for every member of our community,” Food Bank CEO Elliott-McCrea says.
Padilla-Chavez will officially join the staff of Second Harvest on July 18. Elliott-McCrea’s retirement begins July 31.