Just in time for Thanksgiving, the Second Harvest Food Bank held its 40th Anniversary Campaign “No Lunch” Lunch this week showcasing a new emphasis for the organization on providing free and equitable access to fresh food for communities across Orange County.
Held at Second Harvest’s headquarters in Irvine, the lunch honored 300 of its volunteers, donors and partners, and CEO Claudia Bonilla Keller also spoke to the audience about why it has been imperative for the food bank to update its mission moving forward.
“Our new vision, that we work toward every day in this food bank, is an Orange County with food and nutrition security for all,” Keller said. “Yes we feed, but we also strive to serve the most nutritious food we can, to help lift our neighbors in need out of poverty.
“It’s our mission,” she said, “in collaboration with our partners, to provide dignified, equitable and consistent access to nutritious food, creating a foundation for community health.”
Recent expansion of the organization includes two new farms – a smaller Founders Farm and its main 45-acre Harvest Solutions Farm – and 16,000-square-feet of cooler space that is helping the food bank accommodate an influx of fresh food and produce to meet its new healthier mission, such as vegetables, fruits, milk, lean protein and eggs that are purchased, grown or donated.
Through 310 local food pantries around Orange County, Second Harvest serves about 332,000 people a month – that is up significantly from a pre-pandemic average of 249,000 people.
During the pandemic, many organizations in the county stepped up to help Second Harvest meet the rapid growth in need seen during the pivotal period at the pandemic’s height when need swelled to 650,000 people a month.
Keller pointed out the recent mural added to the walls of the Second Harvest Food Bank’s Irvine headquarters.
“The faces on the side of the building are actual people that we serve,” Keller told the audience. “They allowed their images to be shared as a representation of the people that we serve, the community that we represent, and that mural is a gift from this food bank to Orange County for standing with us during the darkest of times. It is a permanent reminder that when we all stand together, we can weather any crisis.”
In all of Second Harvest’s 40 years, the last two represent the biggest pivot in its approach toward providing for the community, its leadership said.
“We are on a nutrition mission,” said Dareen Khatib, administrator of health and wellness for the Orange County Department of Education who is a Second Harvest board member and the head of its nutritional advisory council. “We want to make sure we are not just giving any kind of food, but making sure it’s high-quality food that’s nourishing bodies and minds and social well-being.”
Khatib said while putting health first by what kind of food the community pantries are stocked with, Second Harvest also provides people choices in the food they receive – that’s giving with dignity.
And all of that, “it’s a team effort,” Keller said. In 2022, Second Harvest distributed 33 million pounds of food with the help of 285 partner groups and 37,000 volunteer hours at its distribution center and farm. The effort also took a fleet of trucks that traveled 97,000 miles – a length that equates to circumventing the world four times, Keller said.
“We like to think of ourselves as developing new and innovative ways to tackle an age-old problem of not just a lack of food, but also nutritional insecurity,” Keller said. “If we can provide good food to the people that need it the most, just maybe we can affect their health outcomes. And if we can affect the health outcomes, then their trajectory opens up that much more.”
Keller said the groundwork Second Harvest is putting into creating access to consistent, nutritious food, should create a healthy lifestyle even for Orange County’s most adverse communities with the outcome being increased opportunities, self-sufficiency and economic and health growth.
“I love this idea that we are creating opportunities for equitable access to healthy food,” Khatib said. “It’s not enough just to say, ‘Here’s some food,’ but more, it’s to ensure that people feel we are honoring who they are and what they need by offering a variety of foods that match their cultural backgrounds and diets.”
For volunteer opportunities at the Harvest Solutions Farm, the food bank’s Irvine distribution center or to give back to Second Harvest Food Bank go to feedoc.org/volunteer or email email@example.com.
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