Special Blog Post featuring Vicky Martin of St. Joseph’s Family Center in Gilroy, as told to Matt Mastrangelo of Second Harvest Food Bank.

Second Harvest’s Grocery Rescue Program is a collaborative effort between the Food Bank, local retailers, and select partner agencies. It is part of the Food Bank’s many food rescue efforts and has seen tremendous growth since its inception. In 2015, the program connected nearly 4 million pounds of perfectly good food with our neighbors in need.

My name is Vicky Martin and I’m the Pantry Coordinator at St. Joseph’s Family Center in Gilroy. We’re one of Second Harvest’s southernmost partner agencies and are part of their Grocery Rescue Program.  We operate at our main location plus nine offsite pantries, and we’ve seen the needfor food grow and grow. Families and individuals are seeking more services than ever. Thankfully, as the need has increased, Second Harvest has been there to help.

Years ago we reached out to two local retailers for donations of food close to its “use-by” or “sell-by” date. The food is perfectly good, sometimes it has weeks left before the quality changes, but the perception is that it’s not. Unfortunately we wound up only getting some baked goods and canned food.

When we became part of Second Harvest’s Grocery Rescue Program, we saw tremendous change. The number of stores we worked with increased, as did the number and variety of items donated. We are now able to distribute meat, dairy, beans, eggs, yogurt, and fresh produce thanks to the donations we get through the program.  These are items our clients couldn’t normally afford. Getting these is very helpful and they add a spice to life. You add variety to life when you’re not just having the same one or two things all the time. And that adds to the quality of life, in addition to being nutritious.

Grocery Rescue is a marvelous program. We are so busy distributing food and managing our pantries, we just don’t have the time to negotiate with stores. That’s where the Food Bank steps in and establishes a relationship with the donating stores. It’s hard to convince stores to keep this food fresh and safe so we can pick it up and others can benefit once it’s donated.  Second Harvest makes that happen. They also manage pickup and delivery schedules. It’s incredibly helpful. Now we get nearly a truckload every day. We pick up some of it in a refrigerated truck that the Food Bank purchased for us.

We’ve gotten a lot of feedback about how much people appreciate the items they receive from the Grocery Rescue Program. We’ve had people write letters about how much they appreciate the food, both from a nutrition perspective and due to the variety, and we couldn’t get them this perfectly good food without Second Harvest.