Taking a page from the Silicon Valley playbook, Second Harvest is investing in innovation and utilizing design thinking to include clients in creating innovative solutions to solve for hunger in our community.

On February 15, 2018, the Food Sharing Lab opened at Sunset Ridge Elementary School in Pacifica, California. This pioneering food program is developing a new approach to sharing and distributing food with the very diverse population of families, teachers and staff at Sunset Ridge. Political and economic changes, and the skyrocketing cost of housing, are posing serious challenges for many residents in Pacifica.

A recent report from the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies showed that local families are hurting. Nearly 30% of all San Mateo and Santa Clara county households do not make enough money to meet their basic needs without public or private assistance. We also know that more than one-third of San Mateo and Santa Clara county students ages 5-17 receive free or reduced-price school meals.

The Second Harvest Programs & Services team collaborated with parents, staff and community members to create a program that seeks to eliminate barriers to accessing healthy food. By mindfully creating an atmosphere of generosity and engagement, community members who could use a little help feel completely comfortable receiving it.

“Many people do not identify themselves as being in need of Food Bank services, even if they struggle to pay their bills,” said Olivia Teter, Head of Client Innovation. “Since we want to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food, we are collaborating to create a sense of shared community, so that people can feel proud and gratified when they participate in our programs.”

With a focus on abundance and inclusion, the launch of the Food Sharing Lab was a celebratory event, serving nearly 340 people. People chose which groceries to take, including fresh fruit and vegetables, presented in a farmers’ market style, in bins on colorful table clothes, with vases of flowers on each table.

One parent said, “I never think to buy snap peas at the store, and we’re going have them tonight (along with the broccoli). We were happy to get to expose Elliot (our son) to snap peas.”

“I think this Food Sharing Lab is awesome because it builds a better community,” added Ellie Cundiff, the school principal. “It gives parents options to address their needs in their own way. It’s helpful for our staff and provides them with options for issues that are brought up in their day-to-day lives.”

With music booming in the background, children played and made chalk drawings, parents and school staff sipped coffee and tea, chatting and sharing recipes amongst each other. People expressed surprise and delight to receive the food that would help their families in a friendly community setting.

“What a great program to start at Sunset Ridge. Thank you so much for the generosity and the awesome food!” a teacher commented.

After picking her box of food, one school staff person came away with a big smile: “My friend is going to teach me how to make these black beans tonight!”

“We are creating a fun and welcoming experience at our Food Sharing Lab. People feel uplifted in beautiful environments. By using tablecloths, having food displayed in baskets and vases of flowers, we are demonstrating that we care about creating a positive experience for everyone involved,” noted Olivia Teter.

“People notice little details. Parents, staff, teachers and even students, constantly share their positive feedback and particularly enjoy the blend of bright tablecloths, baskets and produce,” added Gaelle Feliz, Client Innovation Project Manager. “The little details ultimately enhance their experience and community ties at Sunset Ridge Elementary.”

People are encouraged to take food to anyone in their community who needs it, but is unable to come to the distribution.

“I love to encourage teachers to bring food for kids, because they can identify the children who are at-risk and connect us to these families,” said Alejandra Warren, Parent Site Leader and volunteer

“People are super confident that it’s a real program because of its consistency,” said Karolina Garrett, Vice President of Parent Teacher Organization and parent volunteer. “Four teachers walked in here, rolled up, and understand that’s what we do now, and that’s the market we really wanted to get.”

*** If you would like to get involved in the Sunset Ridge Food Sharing Lab or with other Second Harvest Client Innovation initiatives, please contact Olivia Teter or Gaelle Feliz.