SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) There are twice the normal amount of people relying on the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County this holiday season. The food bank hosts weekly mass food distributions at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, but the numbers are ramping up this month.
Lines of cars backed up onto East Lake Ave. at the fairgrounds, Wednesday. 2,000 families stopped by to receive food for Thanksgiving, and meals for the rest of the week. For many people it was the first time they were relying on the food bank.
"Now that I’m not working, I see this as something beneficial for us,” Janet Fernandez said.
Maria Zermeno is also out of work and just recovered from COVID-19.
“Now I need it, so I came. I used to let other people get it, but now you have to," Zermeno said. "I think there are a lot of people like me that didn’t come, but are coming today.”
The pre-Thanksgiving assortment of food included a whole chicken, pork, fish, eggs and fresh produce along with other pantry items.
The Second Harvest Food Bank is handing out about 1.2 million pounds of food monthly during the pandemic. This holiday season that is expected to increase even more.
“Which is typical this time of year, but I think its going to be even more,” Suzanne Willis with the Second Harvest Food Bank said.
The record demand also means the food bank needs more help too.
“We’ve been trying to do twice the amount of work with the same amount of staff and its not sustainable,” Willis said.“Food is harder to source, and it has been this whole pandemic. Those donations coming in are really allowing us to meet those challenges.”
FEMA funds also support the food bank. Willis said another federal stimulus package could likely make a difference too. In June and July the food bank noticed a decrease in need, and then it picked back up again when those funds began to dry up.
The food bank estimates the mass distributions will likely continue for another 12-18 months.