Thuy Le, Second Harvest Partnership Manager, distributes food to Valley Palms residents

The Second Harvest truck arrives at Valley Palms apartment complex at 7 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month. Volunteers get to work unloading boxes and setting up tables. Families gather around and chat with each other while they wait for the pantry to open. When it does, they choose from an array of nutritious groceries and fresh produce, and then take it back to their apartments. The new pantry at this affordable housing complex is part of our effort to make food more accessible to those of us who need it.

Second Harvest is trying new ways to reach people where they are. Many of our neighbors could benefit from the nutritious food we provide, but they can’t get to one of our food distributions for a variety of reasons, including work schedules and transportation issues. The pantry opened in July through a partnership with The Health Trust and Project Access. It already serves more than 150 families.

“The food really gives families a boost,” said Lupe Rivas, who works for Project Access as resident services coordinator at Valley Palms. “They’re able to get milk, eggs, chicken, rice, beans and fresh produce – all the basics. Food is the main source of survival. So this helps them get through the month, pay some other bills, buy diapers.”

Project Access operates a family resource center located inside the 354-unit apartment complex, home to about 3,000 residents. The nonprofit provides health, education and employment services to residents, including afterschool programs and youth empowerment classes.

Nutritious Food is Expensive

“A lot of the families can’t afford good quality food, so with this they can be sure their kids get at least one healthy meal every day,” Lupe said. “It helps kids grow up strong and healthy. Without healthy food, they can’t focus at school, interact or engage because they’re hungry.”

The pantry is run by residents, mostly moms who belong to the Valley Palms Neighborhood Association, or Valley Palms Unidos as they call themselves – Valley Palms Together. They are a passionate group of residents who are working hard to make Valley Palms a safe place to raise kids and bring positive programs to the neighborhood community.

“The pantry helps build community,” Lupe said. “It’s so important for neighbors to build a connection – neighbor to neighbor. They get to know each other on a different level.”

Fabiola and Maria, Valley Palms residents and Valley Palms Unidos members

Collaboration is Key

The new pantry also demonstrates the power of collaboration. Second Harvest was already working with Project Access to provide summer meals at Valley Palms and snacks to its afterschool program. The pantry opening made it possible for families to get the nutritious food they need to thrive on a regular basis.

“I want to thank this organization for helping us with the food,” said Fabiola, a resident and Valley Palms Unidos member. “It has helped my family especially, and the community here at Valley Palms. I hope that you continue to support us with food every month because it makes a great impact on our families. Thank you.”

Second Harvest distributes food at 57 affordable and supportive housing communities, and there are plans to expand to more apartment complexes and mobile home parks. We conducted surveys and focus groups to better understand why some people who need food do not use our services, and that effort is informing how we make our programs more accessible.

We should all be able to get the nutritious food we need to fully engage in our lives.