As California recovers from job loss from the pandemic, pantry demand in San Jose remains at an all time high with no signs of abating.
“We are not seeing a significant decrease (in the need for a pantry),” said Cat Cvengros, spokesperson for the local food bank. Second harvest in Silicon Valley. “The main reason is that you can’t just flip the switch. If someone gets a job today, that doesn’t mean their debt for the past year and a half is gone.
According to Department of Employment DevelopmentCalifornia added 100,000 new jobs in April, representing 38% of the nation’s job gain that month. By May, California had recovered nearly half of the jobs lost due to the pandemic.
But not everyone is benefiting from this job recovery.
Cvengros said Second Harvest served 250,000 people before the pandemic. But since last year, the food bank has doubled its number of beneficiaries. According to a recent Second Harvest survey of pantry customers, 57% of respondents said they had less than $ 100 in savings. More than 70% of respondents indicated that a member of their household had lost a job or had their working hours reduced due to the pandemic.
A recent report from California Association of Food Banks says statewide food insecurity has increased 2.5-fold in 2020 from pre-pandemic levels, affecting 10 million Californians.
As of December, a quarter of all California residents are food insecure. Communities of color are hit hardest: 31% of black residents and 32% of Latino residents struggle to put food on the table.
Manuel Segura has not found a job since he was fired from his janitor job last year following the state shutdown. Every other day, the 71-year-old resident of Sunnyvale cycled 12 miles to the pantry of the Vietnamese Seventh-day Adventist Church in San Jose. The immigrant from Mexico said he was not eligible for state or federal assistance, so the pantry is his main social support. While there are other pantries closer to his home, he said he enjoys biking to San Jose to stay in shape.
Segura buys non-perishable groceries and fresh meals for his family of three, which includes his unemployed 31-year-old son and a family friend.
“The food is excellent, I have no complaints,” Segura said in Spanish, looking at his three white bags with beef chili, beans, milk and Panera pastries, among other items. “This is what we have been eating since the start of the pandemic. It’s the fuel that keeps this young horse moving.
Cornelio Chavez, the pantry supervisor, said the pantry receives about 70 people during an hour of daily operation, dozens more than they had expected before the pandemic.
“It’s sad to see this reality,” he said in Spanish, noting the customers’ first names and their number of bags. “You think when you move north life will be different, but no.”
At San Jose State University, the Spartan Food Pantry remains busy serving students even after the spring semester ends.
Chinmay Kamerkar, a 22-year-old master’s student from Mumbai, and his three roommates have been shopping in the pantry for four months. As an international student who moved from India to San Jose this year, he is not eligible for state or federal benefits.
“I came (to the US) right after my first cycle, didn’t work, and I didn’t save much, so the pantry saves me about $ 100 in food per month,” Kamerkar said as he stood in line to get his food.
The school pantry is one of more than 300 partner establishments working with Second Harvest. Cvengros said the distribution system for getting supplies from the food bank to affiliated pantries has suffered a loss of volunteers due to the pandemic. The National Guard and California Conservation Corps have taken over empty volunteer roles with the support of the state government and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
“We couldn’t have doubled our food distribution without their help,” Cvengros said.
She doesn’t know when state support will end and is actively encouraging residents to sign up as volunteers with the Second Harvest food distribution team. She said she sees pantry demand remaining high in the coming months.
“If you’ve used up all your savings, postponed your car maintenance, and moved into a bedroom with your family, it’s not like you can just fix that car and prepare everything. Cvengros said. “That is going to take time.”
Contact Alejandra Arevalo at [email protected] and follow her @alejandrareval_on Twitter.