The holidays are a time of celebration and reflection, when we gather together with family and friends to enjoy our favorite meals and traditions. But when the high cost of living forces families to sacrifice putting food on the table in order to pay for other necessities, the holidays feel far from festive. Help Second Harvest of Silicon Valley feed those in need!
With hunger at an all-time high, Second Harvest of Silicon Valley is serving more people than ever before. The cost of living in Silicon Valley has spiraled out of control in recent years, far beyond reach for many of our neighbors. These are parents working jobs that are vital to our community, kids who need nutritious food to grow up strong and healthy, seniors living on fixed incomes, and college students struggling to pay for school. Second Harvest’s holiday campaign helps to ensure that everyone in our community can get the nutritious food they need to thrive.
Read local stories of those helped by Second Harvest Food Bank:
Natasha rebuilt her life with the help of nutritious food
Natasha has come a long way in the last year – she had to rebuild her life after escaping an abusive relationship. Unfortunately in doing so she lost everything in the process, except for her two kids –16-year-old Tyler and 6-year-old Kai. Today she is an accountant at a local children’s hospital and looking forward to the future. “I couldn’t have done everything I had to do in the past year without nutritious food,” she said. “Eating fresh vegetables gives you more energy. You are able to function, to focus and concentrate, and keep up with your responsibilities.”
Natasha moved to the United States 15 years ago from Russia, where she worked as an accountant. She hadn’t officially been part of the workforce since then, and instead had managed her husband’s business accounts and raised her kids. So when she left her husband, she had nothing to fall back on. “I had no money and no credit card,” she said. “The first thing I worried about was how I was going to feed my kids. That was my main issue – food for my kids.”
Soon she was connected to Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, and was able to get fresh fruits and vegetables for her family. “We are mostly vegetarians, so it was exactly what we needed,” she said. “We got a wide variety of produce, more than just the basics. There were even organic fruits and vegetables sometimes.”
But with no money to pay rent, she and her kids were eventually evicted from their home. Fortunately, Natasha was able to move her family into a shelter operated by LifeMoves, one of Second Harvest’s partner agencies. “That brought me peace of mind,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry about surviving. They helped with everything – child care, transportation and mental health. They had recreational programs for the kids. I didn’t have to worry about anything other than putting my life back together.”
Unlike most other food banks in the nation, Second Harvest provides food to its partners at no cost, which allows organizations like LifeMoves to concentrate on their core services. Natasha said dinner was provided every night at the shelter, and residents were also able to cook their own meals. “I was really impressed with the quality of the food,” she added. “I have pretty high standards because I’ve done a lot of research into food and nutrition. There was always plenty of fruits and
vegetables, and a pantry with dry goods and canned foods.” Natasha likes to cook, so sometimes she would prepare food for some of the other residents. “It made it feel like home, and my kids love my cooking,” she said. “I liked to cook Russian pancakes for everyone. It was like one big family. I was really scared to go to a shelter, but it was an amazing experience.”
Natasha and her kids were able to move to a townhouse in San Jose after she got a job. But with the high cost of housing in Silicon Valley, they are still only just getting by. “Housing is so outrageously expensive here,” she said. “Even though they gave me the highest salary they could for the position, it’s still not enough.” They can’t afford a lot of extras, or to eat out. But they don’t care because they enjoy cooking at home. “The kids don’t like going out either,” Natasha said. “They like what I cook and they like to help.
Natasha is grateful for the healthy food she received from Second Harvest. “Kids don’t need expensive toys and entertainment to be happy,” Natasha said. “But they do need nutritious food. It’s the one thing they can’t live without. They need it to do whatever they want to do – play and run around if they are little. When they are older, they need it to concentrate on their schoolwork so they can get an education. Nutritious food is important for everything.”
Asia is a young mom who reached for the stars with the help of nutritious good
Asia is pursuing a career in astrophysics and hopes to become a research scientist at NASA someday, but it’s been a long road to UC Berkeley, where she is currently studying for her degree. Five years ago she was homeless and pregnant with her second child. She was working 40 hours a week at a childcare facility, but with the high cost of housing in Silicon Valley, she didn’t earn enough to cover food, rent, child care and other basic necessities. Asia credits much of her success to the help she received from Second Harvest of Silicon Valley and other organizations. “Second Harvest was crucial,” Asia said. “The thing I really liked about the food bank was the variety it provided, especially because I didn’t have a refrigerator when I was homeless. We had some healthy canned food and some peanut butter. Peanut butter was awesome; we used it a lot. Also veggies and fruit.”
Asia and her husband came to California from Florida five years ago for the promise of a job. When that didn’t pan out, they found themselves without work or a place to live. Asia got a job working at a daycare center, where her son, now six years old, could receive care at a discount. “The new job required that I begin classes in child development at the local community college,” she said. “That is initially what brought me to Mission College. I worked full time and took six units. Food was a huge issue because we lived between motels and campgrounds as money allowed. We often didn’t have a kitchen.” Soon Asia was connected to Second Harvest’s monthly grocery distribution at Mission College, where she could receive free food for her family. “My kids love the food Second Harvest provides,” Asia said. “They’re big fans of corn and peanut butter, of course. Kids love the peanut butter and jelly.”
At first, Asia was working during the day and taking night classes at Mission College. Soon she learned there was a childcare center on campus that charged fees on a sliding scale. “I was able to enroll my son for a much, much lower fee,” she said. “We moved into an apartment just before my daughter was born, and I was able to enroll her as well under the same family fee. This allowed me to take classes full time and have my children on campus, which was a necessity since I also took the bus for an hour to get to campus.” Asia added, “It really did mean a lot to have groceries, because when you look at the cost for that, especially when you have kids and you have to buy certain things, it can be really high. It can be $300 or $600 a month at times. That’s a huge expense on top of rent.” With the high cost of living in Silicon Valley, many college students struggle to pay for school and housing, let alone food, and their futures can be jeopardized when they lack access to the nutritious food they need to perform well in class. Through its partnership with local colleges, Second Harvest is ensuring that these students – and their families – can get the healthy food they need to thrive.
After attending Mission College for two years, Asia switched her major from child development to astrophysics. “Having access to all of these wonderful resources allowed me to pursue my lifelong interest in astrophysics,” she said. “Berkeley was always a top choice for me as one of the top schools for astrophysics. I was surprised to get in, but I’ve always worked hard and used the time and resources available to help me focus on my studies. You just have to keep going; keep putting one foot in front of the other.” Asia is currently attending UC Berkeley through a work-study program that provides financial aid. “I think it’s important that Mission College has resources like the food bank because everybody has a different situation and everybody is going to need some kind of different resource,” she added. “To someone trying out the food bank for the first time who is embarrassed possibly, I would say you should be proud to seek out these resources. You’re going to get to a better place, and it’s going to help you get there.”