Walnut Avenue Family & Women's Center
(Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center)
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Combating holiday hunger & food insecurity: Local organizations making difference

These four local Santa Cruz County nonprofits make it their mission year-round to empower youth, fight hunger, and support women and families in need. Read what they cooking when it comes to impactful holiday-time partnerships you can help support.

It’s often difficult to isolate the best way to give back and donate time, money, or goods to worthy causes, and those in need, during the holiday season. And although the coronavirus pandemic is still impacting some holiday festivities, it’s nowhere near as disruptive and devastating as it was this time last year.

It’s important to remind ourselves of all of the local Santa Cruz County nonprofits paying it forward consistently year-after-year, that are always in need of our support.

As easy as pie

Youth from Food, What?! preparing pumpkins for this year's youth-powered pie project.
(Food, What?!)

Few things say the holidays more than pie, but what about charitable,
seed-to-table pie? Local nonprofit Food, What?!, founded in 2007, is a
youth empowerment and food justice organization serving low-income
and struggling teenage youth throughout Santa Cruz County. The
organization focuses on peer-to-peer learning through the growing,
harvesting, and cooking of fresh, healthy food. This holiday season, their
youth-powered pie project is all about food that tastes good doing good.

Youth from Food, What?! baking pies for this year's youth-powered pie project.
(Food, What?!)

The FoodWhat?! pie project is supported by a partnership with Central
Coast retailer New Leaf Community Markets. New Leaf customers can
purchase these delicious pies, which support Food,What?! and its youth,
and enjoy them as part of their own holiday meals. In addition, many of
the pies will go into Thanksgiving food baskets that will be charitably
distributed to the women and families of Walnut Avenue Family &
Women’s Center.

According to Food, What?! farm and culinary manager David Robles, “The youth-powered pie project is one of the most valuable opportunities we offer our youth.” And, Food, What?! youth don’t just cook the pies. Robles adds, “They plant the winter squash, harvest it, bake it into pies at Beckmann’s Bakery, and send the pies off to our friends at New Leaf. Our youth have a hand in every aspect of the operation.”

Youth from Food, What?! baking pies for this year's youth-powered pie project.
(Food, What?!)

Robin Nardello, community relations specialist at New Leaf Community Markets, looks forward to this good-for-the-community holiday partnership year after year.

“It’s so rewarding to be able to support such a wonderful organization, and have the youth who worked so hard to grow, harvest and bake these pies, see them on the shelves of our stores…it’s proof for them that hard work and determination pays off!”

— Robin Nardello, Community Relations Specialist at New Leaf Community Markets

Food insecurity & rounding up at the register

When we think of the holidays, many of us think of food and drink traditions, and the breaking of bread with family and friends. This year, that feels particularly conflicted with food insecurity so acute and widespread.

The nonprofit Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, recently published a report that states that in 2019, before the start of the pandemic, more than 35 million Americans, including nearly 11 million children, were food insecure. The nonprofit projects that in 2021, 42 million Americans, including 13 million children, will have experienced some sort of food insecurity. That’s a huge and deeply troubling jump.

To bring it back home, did you know that in Santa Cruz County one in four children, and one in five adults, face hunger? We must do better. Food banks tirelessly do the difficult and complicated work needed to tackle the complexities of hunger and food insecurity, and the more we can do to support them the better.

Second Harvest Food Bank
(Second Harvest Food Bank)

Since 1972, Second Harvest Food Bank has made it their mission to end hunger in Santa Cruz County through healthy food, education, and leadership. Every month, 55,000 local residents count on Second Harvest to avoid missing meals, empty stomachs, and more.

November through December, all New Leaf Community Markets will participate in the grocer’s annual Holiday Fund Drive, offering customers the opportunity to donate to Second Harvest directly at checkout. Customers can add $1 to their bill at the register, which equals four meals, or donate any other amount they choose. At the end of the campaign, 100% of those donations will go to Second Harvest. We all benefit.

Long-term commitments of support

When local businesses and nonprofits join forces to tackle hunger relief, significant, quantifiable positive change often takes root. For nearly 20 years, New Leaf Community Markets has partnered with Smart Chicken, a sustainably raised, no-hormones-added, antibiotic-free, air-chilled poultry business, on the annual November Smart Giving program.

Throughout the month of November, for every 10 pounds of Smart Chicken poultry purchased at any New Leaf Community Markets store, one pound of Smart Chicken is donated locally to Second Harvest Food Bank. Since New Leaf launched Smart Giving with Smart Chicken in 2006, nearly 90,000 pounds of poultry have been donated.

“Through the Smart Giving campaign last year, New Leaf generously provided over 6,000 pounds of chicken for our neighbors experiencing food insecurity. Campaigns like Smart Giving are vital to our mission to end hunger and malnutrition in Santa Cruz County. We greatly value this partnership, and appreciate everything that New Leaf does for the community.”

— Richelle Noroyan, Corporate & Community Relations Director at Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz

This sort of community-based action and collaboration helps those in
need, forges bonds, and strengthens our community. According to Eric
Gorham, Smart Chicken account manager, “While we continue to offer
year-round support in the community through organizations like Teen
Kitchen Project, and the Homeless Garden Project (amongst others), we
always look forward to November’s Smart Giving. It helps so many
families in need during the holiday season.”

Thanksgiving means turkey

Walnut Avenue Family & Women's Center
(Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center)

To many, Thanksgiving is all about the bird, and a traditional turkey dinner does not come cheap. This year, and since 2019, the folks at Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center can look forward to a turkey dinner basket, brimming with a fresh Diestel Family Ranch Turkey along with various New Leaf housemade sides. And, don’t forget those delicious Food,What?! youth-grown, harvested, and baked pumpkin pies!

For more than 85 years, Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center has been a beacon in the Santa Cruz community as a strength-based family center dedicated to programs providing support and services to thousands of people a year, particularly those surviving trauma and domestic violence.

“We’ve partnered with New Leaf Community Markets for years with their 10-cent Envirotoken program, but especially during our annual Turkey Drive. They considerably discount the meals for our families, which we so appreciate. Without this support, many of our participants wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving meal, let alone a high quality and delicious one.”

— Anissa Novak, Director of Business and Donor Development at Walnut Avenue

So, with all of these wonderful, community-focused ways to donate time, money, and goods this holiday season throughout Santa Cruz County, we can all collectively make positive change together. When times are tough, it’s even more important to pay it forward. So, keep these community organizations in mind this year during the holidays as you hold your loved ones tight. Every little bit of kindness, consideration, and charity makes a difference, always, but especially this year.