The holidays are often filled with fun festivities—and lots of food! But for many Silicon Valley residents, the season serves as a stark reminder that they don’t earn enough to make ends meet in one of the most expensive places in the country. Hunger will take a seat at too many holiday tables this year.
Food access is a critical issue in our community—during the holidays and all year long. After 20 years in food-banking, I know all too well the toll hunger can take. That’s because nutritious food is the foundation for a healthy, productive life. We all need it to fully engage in our lives. It’s nearly impossible to function well without it.
Despite the enormous wealth in Silicon Valley, more people need our help than ever before. Every month an average of 260,000 of our neighbors receive food from Second Harvest. And the number keeps rising. It’s what we call the Silicon Valley hunger paradox. As the economy grows, so does the number of people who need food. The cost of housing has skyrocketed with the booming economy, while wages have remained relatively flat for many, leaving little left over for food.
Hunger is often hidden, even though it’s all around us. More than half of those we serve are kids and seniors. Many others are working hard, but still can’t afford to put food on the table. Some are college students trying to get ahead. The face of hunger is more familiar than you think. Many of the neighbors I meet at our food pantries are teaching assistants, retail clerks and healthcare workers—people we engage with every day.
The fact is everyone deserves access to the nutritious food they need to thrive, no matter who they are where they come from. Second Harvest is working hard to ensure that anyone in our community who needs a healthy meal can get one. We partner with more than 300 community-based organizations to distribute food at 985 sites in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. We’re also working with our partners to bring down the barriers that keep people from accessing food, including shame and fear.
Nobody should have to be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.
Making sure everyone can eat is a huge job and we need the community’s support like never before. While the need continues to rise, donations to Second Harvest are down this holiday season. Because the economy is doing well, many in our community don’t realize so many of our neighbors need our help.
But they do. I hope you will consider giving to a local food-assistance organization this year. Silicon Valley is at the epicenter of technology and innovation, a place where dreams can become reality. We should all have the opportunity to pursue our dreams, and that starts with nutritious food.
Leslie Bacho is CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].