Brown Bag Program for Seniors

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Second Harvest Food Bank's Brown Bag Program provides nutritious groceries twice a month to older adults (ages 60+) and disabled individuals (ages 55+) at distribution sites in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County. The Brown Bag Program has been in operation since 1975.

"If it weren't for Second Harvest, we wouldn't have food on the table. We're so grateful to have something to eat every day. The rice, eggs, milk, bread, and fresh fruits and vegetables have really made a difference."

-Rose, a Brown Bag Program participant


Program Description

Without the Brown Bag Program, many seniors in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties would be extremely isolated and at increased risk for malnourishment and illness. Many seniors are forced to make difficult but unavoidable choices such as whether to purchase their medications, pay for their housing, and/or pay their utilities. Buying food, especially nutritious food, is often last on their list. It is likely that most participating seniors would be forced to skip meals or purchase food that is cheap but not healthy. Every month, more than 900 volunteers gather the various Brown Bag sites to sort, bag, and distribute food to their peers.

Sample Brown Bag food items:

  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Fresh Produce
  • Cereal
  • Rice
  • Other staple items

Brown Bag Program participants are provided with opportunities to volunteer at their food pickup site, which offers them social connections and a sense of belonging and purpose as they contribute to the Food Bank. Every month, more than 900 volunteers gather at the various Brown Bag sites to sort, bag, and distribute food to their peers. Many participants have built new friendships and a sense of community by volunteering.

Brown Bag participants also benefit from workshops and activities that focus on healthy eating, nutritious recipes, and food safety. Newsletters and other educational materials — provided in multiple languages for our diverse client population — address health issues and other information relevant to seniors.

Population and Region Served

  • The Brown Bag Program provides nutritious food to an average of more than 16,000 individuals (representing nearly 10,000 households) each month.
  • Eligible households are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, and many rely only on their Social Security income. Some still work part time or are dependent on assistance their families provide them.
  • The average age of members is 76 and many are managing chronic health conditions.
  • There are currently 68 Brown Bag distribution locations (47 in Santa Clara County; 21 in San Mateo County) serving an ethnically diverse population.


In a 2012 survey, 94% of respondents said they eat more fruits and vegetables as a result of being in the Brown Bag program and 83% reported having more money to spend on other basic needs like medication and rent. 93% said the food from Second Harvest helps them better manage their health and 91% said it helps reduce the stress of providing food.

For More Information

For more information about the Brown Bag Program, please call our Food Connection Hotline at (800) 984-3663 or email