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Nearly Half of Second Harvest Food Bank Clients Have to Choose Between Food and Education

Second Harvest Food Bank releases compelling local data from Hunger in America 2014 about the challenges facing those in need

SAN JOSE, Calif., August 18, 2014– In the heart of Silicon Valley, the center of technology and innovation, nearly half the clients who receive food from Second Harvest Food Bank have had to choose between food and education in the last 12 months, according to the Hunger in America 2014 report. The study, released today, was conducted by Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties in partnership with Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief organization. Second Harvest is part of Feeding America's network of 202 food banks across the country.

"We know that education is the key to getting a good job, especially in Silicon Valley," said Kathy Jackson, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank. "But if people are forced to give up or delay their education so they can eat, they lose out on the opportunity to get ahead. We know that nutritious food lays the foundation for educational success because it fuels the body and the mind. But now we recognize that for families on a tight budget, food costs and educational costs can literally compete."

Hunger in America 2014 is the largest study of charitable food assistance ever conducted. It provides demographic data about the people who receive food from Second Harvest (clients) and some of the choices and challenges they face. The national report is based on more than 60,000 face-to-face client interviews nationwide. In Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, 385 in-depth client interviews were conducted during the summer of 2013.

"The report offers numerous insights into the lives of the 250,000 people Second Harvest serves each month," Jackson said. "It shows us how people are surviving each day, the sacrifices they are making, and some of the real barriers they face to putting nutritious food on the table."

The Face of Local Hunger

The local data shows that the vast majority of Second Harvest's clients are not homeless. Nearly a third of clients have taken at least some college courses. In addition to choosing between education and food, most clients report having to choose between food and medicine, housing, utilities, and transportation.

On average, clients receive assistance from the Food Bank 13 times per year, compared to the national average of eight times. This could be a reflection of the high cost of living in the Bay Area. Even those who are working need assistance on a regular basis.

"One of the most heartbreaking parts of the study is learning about some of the strategies people use to feed their families," Jackson said. "About two-thirds of our clients purchase cheap, unhealthy foods to make ends meet. That's why Second Harvest has put so much emphasis on providing nutritious food to the community, including an abundance of fruits and vegetables. More than half the food Second Harvest distributes is fresh produce." In addition to buying unhealthy foods, half the clients report eating food past its expiration date, a third water down food and drinks, and nearly a quarter sell or pawn personal property so that they can eat.

"Almost two-thirds of our clients have high blood pressure and more than a third have diabetes," Jackson added. "Those are health issues that are related to food. Cheap, unhealthy food tends to be high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. The survey results affirm the fact that if you can't afford to buy the nutritious food you need, your health can suffer."

Low Wages, Underemployment, and Unemployment Driving Need

Despite the improving economy, Second Harvest Food Bank continues to see unprecedented need. Many still have not recovered from the Great Recession. The rising cost of living in Silicon Valley is also making it difficult for those who are still unemployed, working low-wage jobs, or living on a fixed income.

"The most telling data point is that the vast majority of our clients earn less than $20,000 a year," Jackson said. "In an area where it takes an annual income of more than $82,000 for a family of four to pay their bills and put food on the table, we know that $20,000 doesn't leave much for food."

The data shows a large number of people are either unemployed or underemployed. In more than three-quarters of client households, the member who worked the most is now unemployed. Three-quarters of those who are unemployed have been unemployed for more than a year. Among clients who work, more than a third work less than 20 hours per week and more than half work 21 to 40 hours per week.

"Many people who lost their jobs during the recession have not been able to replace that income, even if they are working again," Jackson explained. "They haven't been able to find full-time, permanent employment."

CalFresh Helps Put Food on the Table

The survey also asked clients about their participation in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), called CalFresh in California. The program, also known as food stamps, helps low-income families and individuals purchase food. More than a quarter (28%) of client households receive CalFresh.

"CalFresh is a big help for local families struggling to put food on the table and it brings dollars into the local economy," Jackson said.

Second Harvest has a multilingual team of specialists who work out in the community helping families and individuals apply for the food-assistance program.

To ensure that everyone has access to the nutritious food they need right in their own neighborhood, Second Harvest Food Bank partners with more than 330 nonprofit agencies to provide food at more than 770 sites throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, schools, and after-school programs. Second Harvest is one of only a few food banks in the nation that does not charge its partners for the food it provides.

Hunger in America 2014 was conducted using rigorous academic research standards and was peer reviewed by a technical advisory team including researchers from American University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and the Urban Institute. Nationally, confidential responses were collected on electronic tablets by 6,000 trained data collectors, the majority of whom were volunteers. The study was funded by The Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

A copy of Hunger in America 2014 is available at

Local data points:

The Face of Local Hunger

  • 89% of client households surveyed live in permanent housing
  • 58% of clients rent or lease their home
  • 13% of clients have a four-year degree or higher; 15% have attended some college after high school or have a two-year degree; 30% have a high school diploma; and 33% did not complete high school
  • 12% of adult clients are students
  • Among all clients, 47% are Hispanic, 26% are Asian, 13% are White, 4% are Black, and 10% are "other"
  • On average, clients receive assistance from the Food Bank 13 times per year, compared to the national average of eight times

Making Tough Choices and Trade-Offs
Following are the choices clients reported making in the past 12 months:

  • 68% report making choices between paying for food and paying for transportation
  • 63% report choosing between paying for food and paying for utilities
  • 62% report choosing between paying for food and paying for housing
  • 54% report choosing between paying for food and paying for medicine/medical care
  • 47% report choosing between paying for food and paying for education expenses

Strategies for Getting Food on the Table

  • 67% of clients purchase inexpensive, unhealthy foods
  • 50% of clients eat food past its expiration date
  • 48% of clients receive help from family and friends
  • 35% of clients water down food or drinks
  • 23% of clients sell or pawn personal property
  • 22% of clients grow food in a garden

Clients Struggling With Health Issues

  • 16% of client households include a member in poor health
  • 63% of client households have a member with high blood pressure
  • 33% of client households have a member with diabetes
  • 40% of client households have unpaid medical bills
  • 37% of client households have no health insurance (survey was conducted before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act)

Low Wages, Underemployment and Unemployment Driving Need

  • 84% of client households have an annual income of $20,000 or less
  • 9% of clients have faced foreclosure or eviction in the past five years.
  • In 74% of client households, the member who worked the most is now unemployed
  • 75% of those who are now unemployed have been unemployed for more than one year
  • Among those who work, 32% work less than 20 hours per week; 22% work 21 to 30 hours per week; 32% work 31 to 40 hours per week; and 13% work more than 40 hours per week

About Second Harvest Food Bank

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties is the trusted leader dedicated to ending local hunger. Since its inception in 1974, Second Harvest has become one of the largest food banks in the nation, providing food to an average of one quarter of a million people each month. The Food Bank mobilizes individuals, companies and community partners to connect people to the nutritious food they need. More than half of the food distributed is fresh produce. Second Harvest also plays a leading role in promoting federal nutrition programs and educating families on how to make healthier food choices. Visit to get involved.

About Feeding America

Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 food banks that leads the fight against hunger in the United States. Together, we provide food to more than 46 million people through food pantries and meal programs in communities throughout America. Feeding America also supports programs that improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Educate. Together we can solve hunger. Visit Find us on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at Families who are struggling to put food on the table should call Second Harvest's Food Connection multilingual hotline at 800-984-3663 to learn about food-assistance programs that can help, including CalFresh (food stamps).