This month, we are featuring Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen, an organization committed to providing no cost, hot nutritious meals and support services in a dignified, safe and caring environment.

We recently got a chance to interview Gisela Bushey, Loaves & Fishes’ Chief Executive Officer.

Gisela Bushey

Gisela, tell us a little bit about yourself and Loaves and Fishes.

I have been involved in hunger relief issues for the last 15 years and Loaves & Fishes’ CEO for a little less than a year now.

Loaves & Fishes was started 38 years ago by a group of individuals who wanted to do something about hunger in our community. It started with a simple meal of bread and fish for 11 adults and 15 children. Over the last five years, Loaves & Fishes has steadily increased and streamlined its services to support the growing number of local residents needing hot meals and support services. During FY17-18, we were able to prepare, serve and distribute 500,000 meals. Annually, we serve nearly 400,000 people; 100,000 of whom are children.

Isabella and Lauren, Loaves & Fishes Volunteers

We offer services to all in need, with a special emphasis on families, children, seniors, students, veterans and the homeless. If you’re hungry and come to our doors, we’ll feed you, no questions asked.

Hai-Lum, Loaves & Fishes Client

We have transformed our model from a soup kitchen to a hybrid direct meal services/delivery model; where we still serve meals at two sites in San Jose, but also distribute food to 30 nonprofit partners at 40 different sites throughout Silicon Valley.  These sites include homeless shelters, low-income senior living centers, transitional living facilities, community outreach organizations and churches, as well as school and afterschool programs from as far south as Gilroy to as far north as Palo Alto.

What are some of your organization’s key initiatives right now?

Since June of this year, we have been focused on engaging larger groups of volunteers – partnering particularly with corporations across the community – to help in meal preparation, meal serving, and our new brown bag lunch and hygiene kit build programs.

Corporate volunteers preparing sandwiches

We are currently working with nutritionists and chefs in order to add even more nutritional punch to the meals we serve. For most of the people we serve, the meal they get from us will be their only meal that day.

Meals are being prepared!

One month ago, we began a partnership with Second Harvest, Feeding America and Starbucks’ FoodShare program. The Starbucks FoodShare program brings a new and innovative way to provide wholesome, ready-to-eat meals to some of our most vulnerable residents who struggle with hunger on a daily basis. This program has enabled Loaves & Fishes to increase the variety of food we offer and to serve more people than we could otherwise.

Of course, at the beginning, we had to rework a lot of our scheduling, and we had to make sure we still had kitchen staff available while other staff were picking up Starbucks items. Because of the funding support provided to participating non-profit partners, this program essentially pays for itself, and we were able to integrate it very quickly into our existing pick-up and delivery model; repurposing some of the items, such as salads, and being able to provide a greater variety of proteins into our menus.

How have your clients responded to the new Starbucks food items so far?

Our guests have been pleasantly surprised! When a company such as Starbucks values them and supports them through their struggles, it really helps reaffirm what we are always telling our guests – that they are not defined by the circumstances, and that where they are now does not define their future.  Many Loaves & Fishes guests have a lot of other issues going on in their lives in addition to hunger. With the help of the FoodShare program, for a short time, hunger is “taken off their table.”

When did you start partnering with Second Harvest?

We’ve been partnering with Second Harvest for at least 15 years. We are one of your largest partners and we couldn’t do what we do without you – it would be financially infeasible. This partnership means a lot more than just food and financial support. It means we can leverage one another’s resources to cast our hunger relief nets even more widely.  It truly is a marvelous working relationship. With the alignment of our programs and services with one another, the great beneficiaries are our hungry and homeless neighbors in need.  We bring our core strengths together. Second Harvest provides wonderful food resources, and Loaves & Fishes prepares hot nutritious using this donated food, since not everybody has access to a kitchen or is able to heat up the food they receive.

If Second Harvest wasn’t there, how do you feel the services your organization provides would be different?

Where do I begin… Every single hot meal we serve is made possible through Second Harvest! I really couldn’t speak more highly of our relationship with Second Harvest, we hold you in such high regard.

I just recently had a conversation with someone from a food bank in Maine. They contacted me because somebody at Second Harvest had let them know about our partnership. This food bank called me because they were trying to find ways to partner with food-serving programs such as Loaves & Fishes in their community and wanted to hear about our best practices as a partnership. Truly, the way Second Harvest and Loaves & Fishes work with each other is becoming a replicable model for other food banks nationally.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We all win when we are all connected and serve the most vulnerable people in our community. Helping people go to bed at night not wondering when their next meal is coming is life-altering!

Jose, Loaves & Fishes Client

Thank you Gisela and to everybody at Loaves & Fishes!