Brown Bag Program for Seniors

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Second Harvest Food Bank's Brown Bag Program provides weekly nutritious groceries to senior individuals (ages 60+) and disabled individuals (ages 55+) at distribution sites in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County. The Brown Bag Program has been in operation since 1975.

"Not only has Second Harvest Food Bank helped me by providing a weekly bag filled with nutritious groceries, but their Brown Bag Program has given me the opportunity to interact with other people which I especially look forward to since my wife passed on."

-Robert, a Brown Bag Program participant

Program Description

Without the Brown Bag Program, many seniors in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties would be extremely isolated and at increased risk for malnourishment and illness. Many seniors are forced to make difficult but unavoidable choices such as whether to purchase their medications, pay for their housing, and/or pay their utilities. Buying food, especially nutritious food, is often last on their list. It is likely that most participating seniors would be forced to skip meals or purchase food that is cheap but not healthy.

Sample Brown Bag food items:

  • Ground Turkey
  • Fresh Produce
  • Cereal
  • Rice
  • Other staple items

Brown Bag Program participants are provided opportunities to volunteer at their food pickup site, which offers them social connections and a sense of belonging as they offer their services to the Food Bank. Every month, more than 900 volunteers gather at the various distribution sites to sort, bag, and give out food to their peers. Many participants build new friendships and a sense of community.

Brown Bag participants also benefit from workshops and activities addressing eating behaviors, food safety, and food handling. Newsletters and other nutritional materials – printed in multiple languages for our diverse client population – address health issues and information relevant to seniors.

Population and Region Served

  • The Brown Bag Program provides nutritious food to an average of 15,204 individuals (representing 9,202 households) each week.
  • Approximately 6% of households have a grandparent caring for a grandchild.
  • Eligible households are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, and many rely only on their Social Security income. Some still work part-time or are dependent on assistance their families provide them. The average Brown Bag participant's household income is $1,106 per month.
  • The average age of members is 75 and many are managing chronic health conditions.
  • There are currently 78 Brown Bag distribution locations (55 in Santa Clara County; 23 in San Mateo County) serving an ethnically-diverse population.


In a recent survey, 87% of respondents said they have more fruits and vegetables as a result of being in the Brown Bag program. 69% reported having more money to spend on other basic needs like medication and rent. More than 80% said the food from Second Harvest helps them manage their health issues and reduce their overall stress.

For More Information

For more information about the Brown Bag Program, please call our Food Connection Hotline at (800) 984-3663 or email