November 22, 2016
When the recession hit in 2008, the difference between the number of needed meals and meals that could be provided by food assistance programs increased from 94 million to 148 million.
Since then, the gap has only widened. Even though the amount of meals provided by food assistance more than doubled, Santa Clara County still suffered a 176 million meal deficit in 2013. Students make up a significant portion of this meal deficiency; one-third of children in Santa Clara County struggle with food insecurity. As housing prices and living costs increase, hunger in the Silicon Valley continues to outpace local services’ ability to provide for those in need.
As a result, food assistance organizations and welfare programs have been critical in alleviating hunger. In 2012, government food stamps under the CalFresh and Women, Infants and Children programs provided almost 65 percent, or 100 million, of all free meals in Santa Clara. Second Harvest provided 18 percent of the meals, and student meal assistance programs provided another 14 percent.
In the Bay Area, Second Harvest food goes to over 330 food assistance organizations to distribute food in local communities. In Mountain View, programs like the Community Services Agency (CSA) and Hope’s Corner provide a majority of these supplies. These programs can fulfill many residents’ food needs, but lack of awareness about them poses a major problem; many people don’t know where to go when they need help or resources.
“There’s always going to be those people who fall through the cracks and don’t hear about us,” Executive Director of CSA Tom Myers said. “There are kids at your school who are in need of service, and their families need extra food. We want to be sure to tell them we can help them.”
To combat the lack of awareness, CSA tries to reach people through media and outreach programs. On a typical day, CSA distributes food to around 400 people from all demographics. Staff and volunteers lay out most of the food, and clients swipe cards in lieu of payment and identification.
“People have cards with barcodes and once they swipe them, we can tell [what their needs are], like if they need food for one person or for a family,” Myers said. “If a family has kids, they might need more protein, or if the client is a senior, they might have diabetes, so we’ll [adjust] what food they get.”
For Volunteer Coordinator LaDrea Clark, volunteering is an essential part of keeping CSA running because it means the organization doesn’t have to spend more money paying staff when that money could go to aiding the community.
“If we don’t have volunteers, we have to hire more people, and we’re a non-profit so we don’t have much money to hire people,” Clark said. “If we’re paying more people, that’s less money for people in the community, so it helps us a lot to have volunteers come and spend their time helping us.”
Clark has worked at CSA for 12 years, and he believes that volunteering is a gratifying experience because it allows people to give back to the community.
“The reason volunteers keep coming back is because they feel like they’ve done something, helped somebody or given somebody a smile,” Clark said. “Being able to help somebody is very rewarding.”