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Real Heroes at Irvine-Based Second Harvest Food Bank

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Volunteers helping to harvest watermelons at the Harvest Solutions Farm

One out of every 12 people in Orange County may not have the means to eat today. That’s a challenge that Irvine-based Second Harvest Food Bank has been helping people meet since 1983.

In that time, Second Harvest has grown into a large and sophisticated operation — coordinating hundreds of volunteers; setting up donation programs with supermarkets and food distributors; operating its own vehicle fleet with a distribution center in Irvine; and since 2021, running a 45-acre farm in the City.

“Levels of food insecurity in Orange County are now higher than before the pandemic,” said Second Harvest CEO Claudia Bonilla Keller. “Almost 400,000 people currently rely on Second Harvest and our network of partners for nutritional assistance each month. In 2019, we served closer to 250,000 local residents.”

Those are daunting numbers. But so are these: In 2022, Second Harvest truck drivers traveled 97,000 miles to distribute 32.4 million pounds of food, including 2.7 million pounds of broccoli, squash, melons, cabbage and green beans harvested at its own Harvest Solutions Farm.

The food gets to people who need it through a network of 310 distribution sites — including 41 after-school and summer school programs; 66 mobile school pantries; 55 senior services locations; and 19 school and college pantries.

It’s a huge effort that, even with 86 employees, relies heavily on volunteers to plant, maintain and harvest the farm; pack food boxes; and complete other projects at its distribution center. Second Harvest has averaged about 175 volunteers per week, but with the increase in demand and activity it needs to get that number up to about 250. To sign-up as a volunteer, click here.

The pandemic also brought changes in how Second Harvest gathers and targets its food, Keller said. “We strengthened operations and paved the way for a new focus on planned nutrition through bulk donations, bulk purchases, and growing our own food at Harvest Solutions Farm, rather than relying on situational nutrition driven primarily by donations.”

Where there are insufficient donations of certain foods, Second Harvest supplements with bulk purchases and produce grown at its farm. In this way, people are provided with nutritionally balanced food assistance. For instance, last fiscal year Second Harvest purchased 646,000 dozen eggs — enough to make 2.6 million three-egg omelets! — to help balance its assistance packages.

Food retailers, manufacturers or distributors, as well as restaurants, caterers and hotels, that are interested in donating to Second Harvest can contact the food bank by clicking here.

Roger Bloom

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