This year everyone experienced the dramatic and often devastating effects of the pandemic, but many individuals receiving food from Second Harvest of Silicon Valley also faced incredible financial hardship and increased levels of food insecurity. We are now serving an average of 450,000 people every month, an 80% increase over pre-pandemic levels, and distributing double the food at twice the cost. Low-wage workers like our clients Ana and Oscar were hit the hardest by job and income losses and are now experiencing a slow economic recovery.
Before the pandemic, Ana would save small amounts of her husband Oscar’s paychecks to provide for their children’s futures. However, after Oscar lost his job in construction in April 2020, the nearly $10,000 that Ana had saved over eight years was completely depleted within eight months, used as a lifeline to pay for rent, utilities and food.
After immigrating from Mexico, Ana and Oscar hoped their kids would have more opportunities than they once did. Perhaps the savings would help pay college tuition for Kimberly, 12, or purchase art supplies for Montserrat, 8, who loves creating landscape paintings of sunsets. It might also have covered the costs of therapy for Oscar Jr., who is 7 years old and autistic. Ana calls Oscar Jr. her “special child” who “taught us to overcome any obstacle in our lives.”
Oscar struggled without any income to support his family from April to December 2020. “I had a huge weight on my shoulders but didn't convey it to my children. I bore it all alone because I am the head of the family. I couldn't cry in front of them,” Oscar said.
Due to distance learning, the family’s one-bedroom apartment also became a classroom and a cafeteria, which meant ensuring their children had reliable internet access and providing more meals at home. Faced with these mounting costs, the family used their savings to pay rent and then turned to Second Harvest to fill their kitchen with fresh produce, dry goods, meats and eggs. Ana reflected, “Thank God; He allows us to have access to these (grocery distributions) and hearts like the ones that give without receiving anything in return … we really did not have enough to buy food.”
After seeing lines of cars being loaded up with food from Second Harvest, Oscar said, “I know that every kid who opens milk and pours it into cereal … smiles. … Everyone is happy and content with hope in their hands in the form of a box or a bag. It's the hope that many people carry to their homes, that Second Harvest's been bringing to every home.”
Economic recovery will take Ana and her family years. Oscar has been getting more work but also has developed chronic muscle pains that limit his ability to work long shifts. Describing the drastic effects of the pandemic, Ana said, “It took years to save up this money and only months to spend it … not because of us but because we were living through a pandemic … we couldn't foresee this, couldn't do anything … it will take me eight years to get our savings back.” Without a steady income that can cover the Bay Area’s exceptionally high cost of living, Ana and Oscar will continue to rely on food from Second Harvest.
We do not expect the number of people accessing our services to ever return to pre-pandemic levels based on our experience after the recession in 2008, which permanently increased the number of people we served. Instead, the lasting impact of the economic devastation our clients have faced will be experienced for years to come. Get involved by volunteering, starting a virtual food drive, donating or getting food at shfb.org. You can also reach our Donor Relations Team at 866-234-3663.
Second Harvest is one of the beneficiaries of this year's Almanac's Holiday Fund. Because The Almanac and its partner the Silicon Valley Community Foundation cover all the administrative costs, every dollar raised goes directly to this year's 10 nonprofit organizations. Donations to the Holiday Fund can be made at almanacnews.com/holiday_fund.