Quick Take:

As food insecurity rates have risen during the pandemic, community organizations have stepped up their games. Here’s how to get help if you need it.

An estimated 30% of Santa Cruz County residents experienced what’s known as food insecurity before the COVID-19 pandemic, and local organizations have since only seen the level of need continue to climb.

“Once the pandemic hit, our numbers immediately jumped,” said Suzanne Willis, chief development officer for Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County. “We’re now serving about 40% of the population.”

Daphne Martinez Rojas, offers a plant leaf to a Second Harvest Food Bank volunteer during a food distribution.
Credit: LiPo Ching

Second Harvest helps source and distribute more than 8 million pounds of food each year. It’s one of several organizations on the front lines of the foot insecurity battle.

Here’s our Lookout Guide to how to get food if you need it. In a second guide, we’ll tell you how to volunteer or donate to these organizations.

Cars line up near the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz.
Cars line up near the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz food distribution in September. Credit: LiPo Ching/Lookout Santa Cruz

Second Harvest Santa Cruz County

  • Who they serve: 55,000 people each month, including children, seniors, veterans and the unhoused.
  • About: Founded in 1972, Second Harvest is the oldest food bank in California and second oldest in the nation. During the pandemic, Second Harvest has held weekly food distribution drives at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville. The group has also been working with local schools to ensure students still have access to meals while in-person classes have been suspended.
  • Website: https://www.thefoodbank.org/
  • Hours: Food distribution events are held weekly on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., alternating between the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville and the Santa Cruz County Beach Boardwalk. Partner agencies also hold events. A full list of days/times is available here: https://www.thefoodbank.org/food-distribution-nutrition-education-locations-times
  • Location: Second Harvest, 800 Ohlone Parkway, Watsonville, CA 95076
  • Contact: Community Food Hotline, 831-662-0991 or email foodhotline@thefoodbank.org
  • To volunteer: Contact jael@thefoodbank.org or call 831-232-8141

Pajaro Loaves and Fishes

  • Who they serve: Working poor families, farm workers, and elderly, disabled and homeless individuals in South County.
  • Website: https://pvloavesandfishes.org/
  • Hours: Hot meals served each weekday at noon in Watsonville; Food pantry open every week day from 9 to 11:30 am and 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Location: 150 Second St., Watsonville, 95076
  • Contact: 831-722-4144

Grey Bears

  • Who they serve: People 55 and older, including the homebound.
  • About: Grey Bears delivers 4,100 bags of groceries each week to county. That’s up from 3,600 bags pre-COVID19, said Danielle Wong, program director of the healthy food for seniors program. Each week, volunteers meet at Grey Bears to help pack and deliver food bags that get distributed at drop-off spots and directly to residents. Thirty dollars buys 44 deliveries over the course of a year, but the organization doesn’t turn anyone away who can’t afford that.
  • Website: https://www.greybears.org/our-programs/brown-bag-program/
  • To request deliveries: Call 831-479-1055 or sign up online https://www.greybears.org/get-involved/online-membership-form/
  • Location: 2710 Chanticleer Ave., Santa Cruz, 95065
  • Contact: 831-479-1055
  • Hours: Assembly and delivery of bags takes place Thursday and Friday mornings starting at 7:30 a.m.
Dogs in front of the Food Not Bombs.
Dogs play in front of the Food Not Bombs food distribution stall on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 in Santa Cruz, Calif. Credit: LiPo Ching

Food Not Bombs

  • Who they serve: The homeless population in downtown Santa Cruz.
  • About: Before the pandemic struck on March 14, the organization held food giveaways and served vegan meals only on weekends but, as need increased during the pandemic, volunteers are now working daily. In October, Food Not Bombs had to move from the parking lot at Front and Laurel streets to near the Town Clock amid complaints from business owners and residents, but the group — founded in 1992 — is back at Front and Laurel next to the abandoned Taco Bell.
  • Website: https://santacruz.foodnotbombs.net/
  • Hours: Serving meals daily from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Location: Front Street and Laurel Street
  • Contact: 800-884-1136

St. Francis Catholic Kitchen

  • Who they serve: The homeless and others in need in downtown Santa Cruz.
  • About: St. Francis Catholic Kitchen provides cafeteria-style hot meals each weekday to about 150 people. All food preparation — including hot soup — setup, serving and cleaning is done by volunteers.
  • Website: https://stfrancissoupkitchen.org/
  • Hours: Monday-Friday, at 12 p.m. for meals
  • Location: 205 Mora St., Santa Cruz, 95060
  • Contact: Kitchen director Richard Crowe, 831-459-6712

Salvation Army, Watsonville

Teen Kitchen

Teen Kitchen Project

  • Who they serve: Families in need of food delivery.
  • About: The Teen Kitchen Project serves a dual purpose: empowering teens while also providing free and low cost meals for residents. During non-pandemic times, teen volunteers learn team-building and other skills, working together to prepare and deliver meals. For up to 12 weeks, qualifying applicants receive a bag of prepared, healthy meals delivered to their doors for free. Folks with higher incomes are asked to donate on a sliding scale for meal delivery.
  • To apply for meals: https://www.teenkitchenproject.org/become-a-client/
  • Website: https://www.teenkitchenproject.org/
  • To request deliveries: Contact 831-316-4540, extension 1.

Meals on Wheels