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Second Harvest Food Bank Marks 40 Years Serving the Community

The food-banking pioneer has grown into a large-scale operation that continues to adapt to changing times and meet new challenges so that anyone who needs a meal can get one

SAN JOSE, Calif., October 2, 2014– What started 40 years ago in a 1,200-square-foot building with no refrigeration has grown into a large-scale operation the equivalent of three grocery stores. Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties now has three facilities, including a 75,000-square-foot dedicated produce distribution center on North First Street in San Jose. One of the largest food banks in the nation, Second Harvest serves about 250,000 people every month and distributes more than 1 million pounds of food every week. More than half the food Second Harvest provides is fresh, nutritious produce.

"We are proud that Second Harvest has grown into a highly efficient and effective Food Bank," said Cindy McCown, who has worked at Second Harvest for 30 years and is currently vice president of Programs and Services. "But like anybody turning 40, we have mixed emotions. The fact that Second Harvest continues to grow means there are more hungry people in our community."

In 1974, 10 years after President Johnson declared the War on Poverty, local nonprofit service providers were looking for a better way to get food to people in need. Food banking was a new concept in 1974 and Second Harvest was an early pioneer. As times have changed and the need has increased, Second Harvest has continued to grow and restructure its operations to provide more people with healthy, nutritious food.

Second Harvest has been on the nutrition forefront since the beginning. In 1979, it was the first food bank in the country to hire a professional staff nutritionist. Today Second Harvest has a team of nutritionists who work out in the community helping the people it serves eat healthier through education, cooking demonstrations, food tastings, and recipe tip cards.

Fundraising and Food Drives

"When the Food Bank opened in 1974, it was funded through federal dollars," McCown said. "The War on Poverty created or expanded a number of programs to address the nutritional needs of low-income families and individuals, including the food stamp program."

Today, government funding accounts for only 7% of Second Harvest's annual operating revenues. More than half (53%) comes from individual donors, 21% from companies, and 15% from foundations.

Second Harvest's Board of Directors realized early on that they couldn't stay dependent on federal dollars for support. In 1979, the Food Bank ran one of the first large-scale food drives in the country.

In 1990, Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rogers became the first corporate Honorary Food Drive Chair, beginning a long tradition of corporate executives stepping up to lead Second Harvest's Holiday Food and Fund Drive and encouraging others to support the campaign.

"In the beginning, the drive was centered around collecting food donations, but as Second Harvest has become more strategic about sourcing food, we can now do much more with monetary donations," McCown said. "Second Harvest can turn one dollar into two nutritious meals."

Connecting People to Food

In 1989, Second Harvest launched Food Connection, a multilingual hotline that people can call to get connected to food resources in their own neighborhoods. Anyone struggling to put food on the table can call the Food Connection hotline at 800-984-3663 to get help.

Second Harvest partners with 330 nonprofit agencies to distribute food at more than 770 sites in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including schools, pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and community centers.

"There is no reason to have people coming to one of our three facilities when they can go to one of our distribution sites closer to home," McCown said. "Second Harvest has become a Food Bank without walls. The goal is to connect people to food where they live, learn, work and play."

In 2010, Second Harvest dramatically expanded its CalFresh (food stamps) outreach efforts to leverage this valuable food resource and connect more people to food. California has the lowest participation rate in the nation, which means thousands of eligible families are needlessly going hungry. The Food Bank has a team of CalFresh specialists who work out in the community helping eligible families and individuals apply.

The increased need for food in our community has required the Food Bank to do more with less. In 2011, Second Harvest launched its Grocery Rescue program, which allows Second Harvest to get a significant amount of food into the community using a minimal amount of resources. Second Harvest works with local stores to "rescue" food close to its "sell-by" date. But instead of picking it up, inventorying it, and delivering it back out to the Food Bank's partner agencies, Second Harvest connects its agency partners to the stores in their area so they can pick up the food directly and get it into the hands of those who need it faster.

Earlier this year, Kathy Jackson, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank, was named Feeding America 2014 Network Leader of the Year for her effort to increase the amount of food provided to the community, improve efficiency, and drive down costs. Second Harvest is part of Feeding America's network of 200 food banks. Last year (FY 2012-13), Second Harvest distributed more than a million pounds of food every week, a 16 percent increase over the previous year (FY 2011-12). In addition, Second Harvest was able to improve its efficiency by 6 percent and increase access to CalFresh benefits by 61 percent compared to the previous year. (FY 2012-13 compared to FY 2011-12)

Today, Second Harvest continues to focus on new and better ways to streamline its operations to get more food into the community. This year it deepened its commitment to key partners that could provide more food to hungry people if they had more physical capacity to store and distribute it. Second Harvest stepped up to purchase walk-in coolers, shelving units, and other equipment that will help to strengthen the local safety-net.

"From its humble beginnings in a tiny building on North King Road in East San Jose to the highly efficient operation it is today, Second Harvest Food Bank has never lost sight of its mission," McCown said. "Nobody should ever go hungry in our community. It's unacceptable. That's why Second Harvest will continue to do what it takes to ensure that anyone who needs a meal can get one."

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.