As families gather this week to celebrate Thanksgiving with an abundance of food, thousands of people in Silicon Valley can barely afford their daily meals. To ensure that needy families can enjoy the holiday, local charities will spend the rest of the week collecting and distributing turkeys, canned food and fresh produce.
Over the weekend, more than 400 volunteers packed boxes of non-perishables for Sacred Heart, which kicked off its turkey distribution this morning with the goal of giving out holiday food boxes to 4,200 families. The annual holiday food drive, an annual tradition since 1964, runs through the end of the year and is still 4,800 turkeys short of its target.
Jill Mitsch, who handles fundraising for Sacred Heart, said this year has been especially difficult for the region, where the cost of living continues to price out the poor as wages stagnate. The Coyote Creek flood, which left hundreds of families homeless after flooding several San Jose neighborhoods in February, only heightened the need.
“From that sense of displacement dating back to the flood earlier this year, to immigration concerns as well as the rising costs of rents, which is really pricing our people out of the area, it’s leaving a little less for family tradition,” Mitsch said. “So the holiday program is an opportunity for the community to come together, to bring turkeys and also learn about the ongoing struggles these families face. It’s also a way to welcome people to our work.”
The holiday drives also serve as a time for recruiting new volunteers, she said. People who come to help with seasonal food drives often end up pitching in the following year.
Meanwhile, Second Harvest Food Bank is in the midst of what it calls the largest holiday food and fund drive in the nation, with a goal of raising $16.5 million for a million pounds of food this season.
Despite Silicon Valley’s enormous wealth, more people rely on the food bank than ever before, according to the nonprofit. On average, Second Harvest serves more than 275,000 people a month in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, the agency noted in a recent press release.
“An astonishing one in four people in Silicon Valley is at risk for hunger,” said Cat Cvengros, vice president of marketing at Second Harvest. “More kids, families and seniors rely on Second Harvest for food today than ever before in our history. It’s alarming. With so much happening in the world right now, sometimes we can feel powerless. But local hunger is a problem we all can actually do something about.”
Like Sacred Heart, the food pantry nonprofit cited Silicon Valley’s growing affordability crisis and low wages as the reason why so many families are now turning to local charities to make ends meet. From 2011 to 2016, the median rent ticked up 45 percent while the median income rose only 14 percent, according to the charitable fundraising nonprofit Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
The 2017 Silicon Valley Index, an annual research report by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, found that despite seven straight years of overall economic expansion, nearly a third of local families earn too little to meet basic needs.
“The fact that one in three kids is at risk for hunger doesn’t bode well for an economy that depends on a highly skilled workforce,” Cvengros said.
Mitsch said it’s vital to help those families stay in the region they call home, which is becoming harder to do without charitable intervention.
“We want to keep them here,” she said. “The people in our community are what make San Jose bright.”