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Second Harvest Food Bank Continues to Combat Pandemic Hunger

 

 

 

Pictured are volunteers at work at Harvest Solutions Farm set on 45 acres in Irvine, providing fresh produce to Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County.

 

December 6, 2021

By Laurie Hanson

Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County plays an integral role in feeding families, seniors, and students during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. 

“With inflation at 30-year highs, rising food and fuel costs are presenting families and individuals with difficult choices of which bills to pay,” said Chief Mission Officer Claudia Bonilla Keller, who has been with Second Harvest for almost two years. “Food need will increase as family budgets are strained and stretched. Seniors on fixed incomes are especially hard hit.”

Second Harvest is meeting the greater need by providing increased levels and amounts of food, primarily focusing on providing their partners with nutritious fresh produce, dairy, and eggs. Since many of those foods are perishable, they are in the process of adding 6,000 square feet to their cold storage capabilities. 

“Additionally, we harvested our first crop of cabbage on our Harvest Solutions Farm,” she said. “Cabbage is an ideal vegetable crop for farming in Orange County as it can be grown year-round. It is packed with nutrition and can be used in many recipes across various cultures.” Located on 45 acres in Irvine, the Farm collaborates with Solutions for Urban Agriculture and the University of California’s South Coast Research and Extension Center.

Today Second Harvest is feeding just under 400,000 per month, distributing three to four million pounds of food a month. Financial support from the community and the county and federal and state support has allowed them to continue feeding their neighbors in Orange County. 

During the last fiscal year, the need increased by 43 percent, with their distribution almost at 60 million pounds of food to about 490,000 individuals per month. Before COVID-19, they fed 249,000 people per month with the help of their partners, but in fiscal year 2020, they saw that number increase by 38 percent, according to Keller.

Besides meeting the needs of families and seniors, Second Harvest helped open their 14th on-campus college pantry for students at Cal State University, Fullerton. Nearly 39 percent of 167,000 students interviewed at 227 two-year and four-year colleges nationwide said they had experienced food insecurity in the last 30 days, with the pandemic exacerbating the problem, according to a 2019 study by Temple University’s Center for College, Community and Justice.

But working families, families with children, and communities of color remain among those who have been the hardest hit economically by the pandemic and therefore are at the greatest risk of food insecurity, Keller added. 

“Cities with the greatest need for food are those that continue to be impacted by the economy, those that are home to low-wage workers, and those that are home to thousands of low-wage jobs in the restaurant and hospitality sectors,” she explained. “Those cities include Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Westminster. However, our network of partners serves children, families, college students, and seniors in almost every city in Orange County.”

To better anticipate future food needs, Second Harvest monitors such factors as unemployment, inflation, food costs, gas prices and housing/rent costs. According to Keller, with most of their food supplies coming from within California, their supply is more impacted by the trucking industry and less by the shipping backlog that is currently in the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbors.

For more information and to donate Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, a 501©3 nonprofit, please visit online at www.feedoc.org. Individuals ages 13 and older who would like to volunteer at Harvest Solutions Farm can sign up at feedoc.org/volunteer. Shifts are Tuesday-Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.