East San Jose Cultural Center Volunteers

In March of 2020, our partner, the School of Arts of Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza (SoAC), was gearing up to celebrate their annual César Chávez celebration as the pandemic hit, bringing its plans to a screeching halt.

When restrictions took effect, the cultural center could no longer host its vibrant cultural events or lively afterschool music programs for the Mayfair community. But staff couldn’t stand by and watch as the virus affected its community in East San Jose.

As scores of community members were put out of work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, SoAC pivoted to transform its cultural center into a drive-thru distribution site to offer free nutritious groceries, in partnership with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley.

School of Arts of Culture Volunteer
Cultural Center Drive Thru Distribution
School of Arts of Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza Volunteer

This June, SoAC commemorated their one-year drive-thru distribution site and celebrated their hard-working volunteers with tacos in its courtyard.  

Vanessa Palafox, the community liaison at SoAC said, “We are grateful for our committed volunteers that showed up to serve – through rain, shine and unprecedented times. Their smiles and energy got us through the chaos.”

Aurelia is one of the many clients SoAC has served during the pandemic. When Aurelia and her neighbor Lorena walked up to the food distribution at SoAC, they were pushing their personal rolling carts and had four young kids in tow. Aurelia lives close to the School of Arts and Culture and decided to get free food in early 2021 when she found out about the distribution.

“I needed food,” Aurelia said. “My financial situation is not good because my husband is not working so much.”

Aurelia’s husband is a handyman. She is not currently working, but she is able to make a little money when Lorena occasionally hires her as a babysitter.

“We struggle financially and barely make it with our rent, but the landlord knows of our situation and lets us make [partial] payments to pay the rent. We don’t have to worry about food because we come here.”

This free distribution site has also served clients like Roberto (pictured below). Monday, June 21 was Roberto’s first time getting food from one of our partners.

On Roberto’s bike was a cargo trailer where he could stack all the boxes of food he received for his seven-person household.

“I ride my bike by here every day, and every Monday I see a lot of people lined up for food and I thought, ‘I should go,’” Roberto said.

Roberto is a freelance worker for a downtown street team in Palo Alto that does street cleaning and homeless community outreach. He helps the unhoused find housing, get medical attention and schedule treatments. Roberto also makes a little bit of money selling rosaries (prayer beads) outside of different churches in San Jose.

Roberto shared that he used to feel embarrassed about the thought of getting food assistance for himself and his family, but not anymore.

“I’m not doing anything wrong, and I need it. That’s the truth. I need food right now.”

Roberto’s bike was a cargo trailer where he could stack all the boxes of food he received for his seven-person household

In Roberto’s home, his mom prepares all the food from Second Harvest and his favorite dishes are chile rellenos, shrimp cocktail and chicken.

Roberto’s hands-on experiences with his community help him see that everyone has been struggling.

“Many lives changed [during the pandemic]. Mine did. Many lost their jobs, many got separated, and the financial stress affected so many marriages. I know people that went through that. But God will never abandon us. God is good.”

As things begin to open back up, the School of Arts and Culture will begin to offer mercados or farmers-market style sites for clients, allowing them to pick and choose their favorite produce items to take home.    

Jessica Paz-Cedillos, the executive director at SoAC said:

“We are incredibly grateful for our partnership with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley. Because of their support, we’ve been able to feed over 35,000 community members. We look forward to the continued partnership as we launch our monthly mercados starting in August.”

We are grateful for our partners like the School of Arts and Culture, who pivoted to serve our community at a time when food insecurity is at an all-time high. Partnerships like this remind us of how powerful we are together.

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