Participants line up for the Second Harvest Food Bank distribution outside the Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose on June 14, 2023.
Bay Area food banks are stepping up to fill the gap for our neighbors experiencing food insecurity. We have always supported the community during times of crises and need — that’s what we were designed to do.
But the prohibitive cost of living in the Bay Area coupled with the government’s rollback of pandemic-era support has magnified our role. Food banks have become the safety net for many Bay Area families, seniors, veterans and students.
Across the Bay Area, reliance on food banks and our partner distribution sites has increased and, in many cases, returned to the same level it was at the peak of the pandemic.
Second Harvest of Silicon Valley is serving an average of half a million people every month in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. In Alameda County, an estimated 1 in 4 residents is struggling to afford sufficient food. Alameda County Community Food Bank is on pace to provide more food than ever.
Half the people we serve are children and seniors. Most of the other clients are employed, often working multiple jobs — yet their earnings aren’t enough to pay all of their bills. In a recent Second Harvest client survey, more than 70% of respondents reported feeling worried about being able to pay all of their bills the following month.
Government programs are important, but they are based on federal poverty limits, which do not consider the local cost of living. This means many high-need Bay Area families aren’t eligible. This is a systemic issue and yet, increasingly, the only solution is for people to turn to their local food bank.
Food banks are volunteer-dependent and donation-driven. In fact, most Bay Area food banks receive over 80% of their operating revenue from private donations. Right now, the rate of people seeking our support is outpacing donations.
The economics simply don’t add up.
They won’t until our state and federal leaders come together to enforce policies that address food insecurity; the power to determine whether this problem gets worse or better lies squarely with decision-makers in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. We’ve seen the positive impact of programs such as the Child Tax Credit reduce child poverty to historically low levels. Then child poverty doubled when these enhanced benefits were not reauthorized by Congress.
The Child Tax Credit is a crucial solution, but there are others. Anti-hunger advocates support more investment in programs such as universal school meals, expanded CalFresh (known as SNAP federally), and state and federal support of food banks through CalFood and the Farm Bill. The visible affluence in our community hides the fact that people are struggling and in dire need of these programs, while food banks are making tough choices every day to fill the gap.
This is a solvable problem, but we need help. This year, it will be critical to call on state legislators, local representatives and Congress to advocate for sustainable systems that reduce food insecurity. Meanwhile, we need people to donate or volunteer to make an immediate, tangible difference right here in our local community.
There is no need more basic than food. We must all work together to meet the short-term need while using our voices to push for long-term solutions that will address hunger and its root causes in our communities.
Leslie Bacho is CEO of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley. Regi Young is Executive Director of Alameda County Community Food Bank.