Feeding Santa Cruz Part II: How to volunteer or donate to help the hungry

Girl with mask
Daphne Martinez Rojas, offers a plant leaf to a Second Harvest Food Bank volunteer during a food-distribution event on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Santa Cruz. Daphne and her grandmother Gloria, picked up food earlier in the day — and Daphne wanted to give plant leafs to volunteers before leaving.
(Lipo Ching/Lookout Santa Cruz)

We recently told you how folks in need can get food amid the pandemic. Now, we’re telling you how you can pitch in to help the organizations that are feeding them.


It’s the time for giving thanks — and for giving. And, boy, is that needed more than ever in 2020.

But how? That’s the often-murky question that can keep people from helping out in the first place.

Organizations that provide meals and groceries to the more than 55,0000 people who need them in Santa Cruz County have seen demand surge during the coronavirus pandemic. But they’ve also seen the ways in which they deliver on their missions, which, in turn, changes the ways you can help.

At Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes, for example, the organization is no longer serving daily in-person meals, and is instead distributing prepared food and groceries. Even their annual Thanksgiving dinner had to be cancelled. The changes transfer the volunteer focus to preparing and delivering meals rather than serving them.

When it comes to donations, money is better than food, says Second Harvest Food Bank’s Suzanne Willis. That’s because organizations like Second Harvest have bulk purchasing power, which means they can distribute four healthy meals for every $1 donated.

Here’s what else you need to know about helping the hungry, broken down into three categories: How to volunteer your time, how to donate money and other methods of support. See something we’re missing? Drop us a line at



The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County

The Volunteer Center has been connecting volunteers with organizations in need of help since 1967, serving as a one-stop shop for all things related to volunteering.

  • Programs: The Grocery Shopper Program aims to help fixed-income seniors and health-compromised older adults, with volunteers taking grocery orders, purchasing groceries from local retailers on their behalf and then delivering them to their homes using COVID-19 safety protocols.
  • Jobs needed: Grocery order-takers, shopping for isolated seniors and delivering food.
  • Who can volunteer: Anyone who applies must undergo a background check that can take up to one week to complete. Volunteers should be able to lift 25 pounds or more. Safety training will be provided.
  • Time commitment: Minimum of one grocery trip per week for at least four straight weeks.
  • To sign up: Volunteers can register using this link.
  • Also: The Volunteer Center has put together a handy tip sheet on how to volunteer safely during COVID-19. Check it out here.
  • Who to contact: Call the Volunteer Center’s main line at 831-427-5070.
  • Location: Grocery orders can be taken from volunteers’ homes; delivery locations vary depending on assignment.

As food insecurity rates have risen during the pandemic, community organizations have stepped up their games. Here’s how...

Our Lady of the Assumption Church

Part of the Diocese of Monterey, Our Lady Assumption was established in 1953 and serves a bilingual community in southern Santa Cruz County.

  • Program: The church distributes food once a week to people who drive-thru, and walk into, its parking lot in Wastonville.
  • Jobs needed: Helpers are needed to hand out bags of food — and to direct cars on how to enter, exit and line up in the parking lot.
  • Time commitment: Food distribution events will be held Fridays from 8:30 - 11:30 a.m. starting Dec. 4. Volunteers should be able to commit for the full three hours.
  • Who can volunteer: Anyone 18 or older.
  • Additional details: Volunteers who are bilingual are especially needed but it’s not a requirement.
  • Protocol: Bring your own mask or one will be provided on site, along with gloves and a safety vest. Tables and markers on the ground will provide direction on socially distancing.
  • To sign up for a volunteer slot: Click here
  • Contact: Natt Bartell, or 831-427-5070 x119
  • Location: Our Lady of Assumption Church, 100 Salinas Road, Watsonville

Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes

Founded in 1989, the organization is dedicated to alleviating hunger in the Pajaro Valley by providing nutritious food and education.

  • Jobs needed: Volunteers are needed for everything from pantry stocking to food preparation, cleanup and administrative tasks. Opportunities are also available to help from home, including making masks for staff and guests, and writing encouraging letters.
  • Time commitment: Three-hour shifts are available Monday-Friday.
  • Who can volunteer: Anyone can volunteer; client intake jobs require volunteers to be bilingual.
  • Additional details: First-time volunteers will need to fill out a short information form.
  • Time commitment: Once you’ve completed your volunteer form, you can sign up for a three-hour slot via the calendar.
  • Who to contact: Executive Director Ashley Bridges, 831-319-4570; or call the volunteer services number, 831-319-4571, or email
  • Location: 150 2nd St., Watsonville
Food Not Bombs
(Lipo Ching/For Lookout Santa Cruz)

Food Not Bombs

An all-volunteer organization started in 1980 that provides free vegan and vegetarian meals to people in more than 1,000 cities in 65 countries, while also working to curb food waste.

  • Program: Food prep takes place at Little Red Church (Calvary Episcopal) 532 Center St., Santa Cruz. Food distribution takes place daily at the corner of Front and Laurel streets, next to the former Taco Bell in downtown Santa Cruz.
  • Jobs needed: Volunteers are needed to prepare and distribute meals. Food preparation is done on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; distribution daily from 12-4 p.m. in downtown Santa Cruz.
  • Time commitment: Volunteers can sign up for three-hour slots here.
  • Who can volunteer: Anyone
  • Who to contact: Keith McHenry at 575-770-3377.

Grey Bears

Started in 1973 by two college students with a mission to curb hunger among seniors, Grey Bears works to improve the health and well-being of seniors in the community through food distribution, resource conservation and recycling.

  • Program: Grey Bears delivers 4,100 bags of groceries each week to county residents 55 and older. That’s up from 3,600 bags pre-COVID19.
  • Jobs needed: Assembly and delivery of bags of food.
  • Time commitment: Assembly and delivery is done Thursday and Friday mornings, beginning at 7:30 a.m.; volunteers can participate as often as they want.
  • Who can volunteer: Anyone can help with assembly; delivery requires a valid driver’s license.
  • Additional details: Delivery/drop-off can be done contactlessly or with other social distancing protocols.
  • Who to contact: Mary Bucks, 831-479-1055 x241 or
  • To sign up: Interested volunteers can also fill out an information form here.
  • Location: Assembly is done at Grey Bears, 2710 Chanticleer Ave., Santa Cruz. Delivery locations vary.

Meals on Wheels

Run locally by Community Bridges, Meals on Wheels delivers meals to seniors throughout the county as a partner organization of Meals on Wheels America.

  • Jobs needed: Volunteers are sought for delivering meals to seniors. Community Bridges, which runs the Meals on Wheels program, also needs volunteers to work with their children and family programs, and help with administrative tasks.
  • Time commitment: Varies
  • Who can volunteer: Anyone can sign up for consideration. Some opportunities available to those under 18.
  • How to sign up: Volunteers must complete an application and email it to Applications can also be mailed to 519 Main St., Watsonville.
  • Who to contact: 831-464-3180
  • Location: Community Bridges, 519 Main St., Watsonville
Second Harvest
(Lipo Ching/For Lookout Santa Cruz)

Second Harvest Food Bank

The state’s first food bank, Second Harvest distributes more than 8 million pounds of food to county residents each year through 200 partner agencies and programs.

  • Jobs needed: Volunteers are needed to direct traffic, take information from clients and load bags of food into cars during distribution events held each Friday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., alternating between the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville and the Santa Cruz County Beach Boardwalk. Others jobs for which volunteers can sign up for include maintenance/cleaning of Second Harvest facilities and packaging of food products.
  • Who can volunteer: Anyone ages 13-65 years old who is able to lift, pull and push up to 25 lbs. They must also be healthy without any COVID-19 symptoms and have no recent contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Time commitment: Must be available for a full shift. Shifts vary from 8-hour maintenance shifts, to 5-hour food distribution shifts and 2-hour product packaging shifts.
  • Additional details: Volunteers must register online in advance and will be required to sign a COVID-19 waiver attesting they aren’t experiencing symptoms and haven’t been exposed to certain risk factors. Those helping with food distribution must be able to stand for long periods of time and comfortable shoes are recommended. Masks must be worn the entire time.
  • Who to contact: Jael Salinas, 831-232-8141 or You can also register through the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center.
  • Locations: Food distributions are held Fridays alternating between the Santa Cruz County Fair Grounds in Watsonville and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. A full list of days/times is here. Main offices are at 800 Ohlone Parkway, Watsonville.

St. Francis Catholic Kitchen

Since 1982, St. Francis Catholic Kitchen has run two programs to care for those in need: a soup kitchen and a transitional shelter. Over 35,000 hot lunches are served each year.

  • Jobs needed: Food preparation, set up and serving meals.
  • Who can volunteer: Anyone over 18.
  • Time commitment: Volunteers are needed Monday through Friday. Both one-time and long-term commitments are offered, for individuals and for groups.
  • Who to contact: Richard Crowe, kitchen director, 831-459-6712.
  • More information: On their website here.
  • Location: 205 Mora St., Santa Cruz.

Teen Kitchen Project

Started in 2012, Teen Kitchen strives to create community through food, giving teens an opportunity to learn cooking skills while making nutritious meals for those in need.

  • Jobs needed: “Delivery angels” to bring pick up meals from Teen Kitchen Project’s Soquel and Watsonville facilities and deliver them to clients’ homes throughout the county.
  • Time commitment: Each delivery angel will be responsible for 4-8 deliveries at one time. Food is picked up between 12:45 and 1 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and must be delivered right away.
  • Who can volunteer: Anyone 18 years of age or over with a valid driver’s license. A criminal background check will be done. Volunteers will have to show a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance.
  • Additional details: Delivery is done contactless, following social distancing protocols. Delivery information will be sent to volunteers the Friday before their scheduled deliveries to give them time to look up directions.
  • To sign up online: Fill out form here
  • Contact: Yesenia Salas, 831-316-4530 x2
  • Location: Meals will be picked up either at the Soquel kitchen, 2880 Research Dr., Suite 200, Soquel, or the Watsonville kitchen, 412 East Riverside St., Watsonville. Delivery locations will vary.



(Courtesy FoodWhat?!)

Food What?!

Food What uses organic farming as a vehicle to teach job skills, build community, form a connection to the land; students also bring home fresh produce they’ve grown themselves and learn about nutrition and food justice.

  • Helping teens and their families: Donations to Food What?! help fund the organization’s programs for teens, including the spring internship program, the summer job program and others. A one-time $500 or $45 monthly donation, for example, ensures that a FoodWhat?! youth receives fresh, organic food and their family each week of the summer.
  • Options: Donations can be made one-time or on a monthly recurring basis through the organization’s Rainbow Chard Rockstars program.
  • Methods of payment: Credit or debit card
  • To donate:

Grey Bears

  • Meals for seniors and evacuees: Donations made today will go toward meal delivery for CZU Complex Fire evacuees staying in local hotels and weekly bags of groceries for more than 4,000 county seniors.
  • Options: Donations can be made on a onetime basis or set up on a recurring monthly or quarterly basis.
  • Methods of payment: All major credit cards accepted. Donations can also be mailed to or dropped off at Grey Bears, 2710 Chanticleer Ave., Santa Cruz, 95065 from Monday and Friday, between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
  • Main donation page:

Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes

  • Options: Monetary donations can be made on a one-time or a recurring, monthly or quarterly basis.
  • Methods of payment: Credit card or check accepted. Checks can be mailed to Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes, 150 2nd St., Watsonville, 95076.
  • Main donation page:

Second Harvest Food Bank

  • Twice as nice: All Second Harvest donations made now will be matched through a grant from the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 Local Response Fund.
  • Options: Donors have the option to pay in installments, make a one-time gift or make recurring donations on a monthly basis as part of the organization’s sustaining partner program.
  • Methods of payment: Visa, MasterCard, American Express or check.
  • Main donation page: Click here

St. Francis Catholic Kitchen

  • Methods of payment: Donations can be made via PayPal or check.
  • Options: You can specify whether your donation goes to the soup kitchen, the Jesus Mary Joseph Home transitional shelter or the general fund.
  • Shop for a good cause: St. Francis Catholic Kitchen is signed up through Amazon Smile. Once you sign up for free, you can shop as you normally would. Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to SFCK.
  • Main donation page: Click here

Teen Kitchen Project

  • Options: Monetary donations can be made on a one-time or recurring basis, starting at $25.
  • Methods of payment: All major credit cards; checks can be mailed.
  • Annual drive: The organization’s annual year-end fund drive is being held through the end of December. Donation levels start at $32, which can pay for four meals for a client. More info here
  • Main donation page: Click here



Grey Bears

  • Got fruit?: The Grey Bears Glean Team will pick produce or fruit from your garden/farm, and take donations of produce and non-perishable food items.
  • Who to contact: Danielle Wong, or 831-479-1055 x227
  • Thrift shop: Donations of furniture, clothing, housewares and books for Grey Bears’ thrift store can be dropped off Monday - Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Electronics: Computers, appliances, televisions and other electronics, working or not, can be dropped off at the Chanticleer recycling center daily between 7:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
  • Who to contact: Tina Forest, 831-479-1055 x235 or
  • Location: Grey Bears Thrift Store and recycling/electronics can be dropped off at the Grey Bears main campus, 2710 Chanticleer Ave., Santa Cruz

St. Francis Catholic Kitchen

  • Clothing and blankets: Donations of clean, wearable men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and blankets can be dropped off Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 205 Mora St., Santa Cruz. The organization also needs toothbrushes, toothpaste and new underwear, which is distributed to the people who visit the soup kitchen.
  • Who to contact: Richard Crowe, 831-459-6712
  • Location: Items can be dropped off at 205 Mora St., Santa Cruz