Second Harvest Food Bank volunteer Paul Garcia knows the importance of giving back to his community.
“I was a heroin addict for many years …. I tore this town up,” he said. “So now I’m giving back.”
Garcia has been a volunteer for Second Harvest for 11 years. He started as a truck driver, then moved on to the warehouse, working even as he was battling lung cancer and other health problems.
Gradually, staff at the food bank recognized his enthusiasm and began giving him more responsibility. He is now the head supervisor of warehouse volunteers.
The Covid-19 pandemic initially put a wrench into operations at the food bank—after the initial outbreak in March, volunteers including Garcia were sent home, and National Guard members were called in to help instead.
Garcia says he was “going crazy” not being able to volunteer for those months.
“It feels so good to be back here,” he said. “It feels right.”
Suzanne Willis, Second Harvest’s chief development officer, said staff at the food bank was “thrilled” to have him back, too.
“Paul has been an integral part of our warehouse operations for many years, so having him back is helping us tremendously,” she said.
Second Harvest’s annual Holiday Food Drive will be virtual this year to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Monetary donations will be accepted through its website. All of the funds will provide food to distribute via the organization’s partners agencies.
“You’re not going to be seeing donation barrels out in the community like you’re used to seeing,” Willis said. “[But] people still need that support and we need those funds to provide it to all of those people.”
Willis explained that monetary donations have always been more impactful in the long run. For every $1 donated to the organization, they can purchase about $9 worth of groceries.
This extra support is vital, as the food bank is currently averaging about 1.2 million pounds per month in distribution—almost double the amount before the pandemic. This means needing more staff and volunteers to meet the demand.
“Not only are we having twice as much need, now we have to pre-bag everything, make sure it’s ready so it can be grab-and-go,” Willis explained. “That is why our labor force is so important to us, especially now.”
Garcia said that his time at the food bank has been “amazing.”
“I want people to know … it’s fun. You meet all kinds of people, and make friends,” he said. “It’s a great environment, and you are helping out your community. I know I don’t have plans to go anywhere.”
Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County is currently hiring and looking for more volunteers to work on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Visit thefoodbank.org for information.
More holiday giving
Toys for Tots
Santa Cruz County Toys for Tots will be accepting toy donations by mail (Amazon and Target registries available), as well as monetary donations via its crowdfunding campaign. For information, visit the organization’s Facebook page. You can also make a financial donation to the Toys for Tots organization at bit.ly/2JVDM2V.
Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes
Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes is accepting donations of frozen turkeys and other items for their special Thanksgiving meals, as well as monetary assistance through the holidays. Gift cards to grocery stores can also be donated. For information on the upcoming holiday meals and to make a donation, visit: pvloavesandfishes.org.
The Christmas Project
The Christmas Project, which provides gift certificates for migrant and needy families, will be accepting gift cards and monetary donations this year. Together with Second Harvest, they aim to provide grocery gift cards for families to purchase food. In addition, they will hand out Target cards for families to pick out a present for their children. Contact Gladys Anderson at 831-426-2264 for information.
Casa de la Cultura
Casa de la Cultura will be holding a drive-thru version of its annual Christmas giveaway on Dec. 21. Local families can pick up food, toys and coats at Casa de la Cultura, 225 Salinas Road in Pajaro. Volunteers are needed to help direct traffic and organize gifts. For information on how to donate items and support the organization financially, visit casadelaculturacenter.org.
Local 7-Eleven owners Sherry Dang and Kirk di Cicco will once again hold their annual Turkey Giveaway—albeit in a smaller capacity—on Nov. 23. This year the giveaway will be held by appointment only, in order to protect customers and staff. Sign up forms will be available at 261 East Lake Ave. and 1461 Main St. Staff will call when people’s turkeys are ready for pickup.