Need is increasing every year as nonprofit kitchen now serves an average of 12,000 meals each week

Photo courtesy Anne Santos with Loaves & Fishes Volunteers from eBay help prepare meals at Loaves & Fishes kitchen in Morgan Hill.

Photo courtesy Anne Santos with Loaves & Fishes
Volunteers from eBay help prepare meals at Loaves & Fishes kitchen in Morgan Hill.

A growling stomach can distract anyone, especially schoolchildren. But for many, it’s a daily occurrence. Since 1980, Loaves & Fishes has provided hot, nutritious meals to hungry Bay Area residents. Their noble efforts make an immeasurable difference to those they serve. And they do it quietly from South Valley.

Loaves & Fishes operates two centralized kitchens in Morgan Hill, at the Huntington and the Lodge, located on Butterfield Boulevard. In this extended partnership model, they rent work-spaces for $1 per year, plus utilities, in exchange for providing meals to the residents. When their temperature-controlled delivery trucks arrive each weekday, they pack nutritious meals for distribution from Gilroy to South San Francisco. Their fleet brings an average of 12,000 meals per week to those who may not otherwise eat.

“Because of the kindness of the folks who manage the Huntington, we’re delighted to feed all the residents of the Huntington and the Lodge,” said Gisela Bushey, Loaves & Fishes’ CEO. “We’re cooking anyway. It’s been six years and it’s a lovely partnership. Everybody wins. This is something purposeful and purpose driven. As my mother would say, it’s a happy byproduct.”

Photo courtesy Anne Santos with Loaves & Fishes People line up for a free meal at Loaves & Fishes meal service site at the Eastside Neighborhood Center on Alum Rock Avenue.

Photo courtesy Anne Santos with Loaves & Fishes
People line up for a free meal at Loaves & Fishes meal service site at the Eastside Neighborhood Center on Alum Rock Avenue.

Bushey knows firsthand what it’s like to be hungry, having experienced poverty as a child while her father was serving in Korea. A single financial setback led to her family losing their home, a circumstance she sees repeated all too often.

“We don’t realize how the vast majority of people in this country are just one incident away from tipping into homelessness,” Bushey said. “Only about 10 percent of our guests are considered chronically homeless. The vast majority are from the local community who, because of circumstances, find themselves without a home or secure place to live. Many are working multiple jobs and still can’t make ends meet.”

Suddenly, they’re trapped in a frustrating cycle. Their car needs gas to get to work. But they need to eat, and maybe feed their family. Buying food means they can’t pay for gas to continue working and earning money. That leaves them with hard choices.

Bushey’s passion and enthusiasm for helping those in need is genuine, having never forgotten the kindness shown to her own family. “If we can at least help them pause for a moment and ensure they have a nutrition-packed meal for themselves and their family, we can create a space where they can focus on not worrying, not being alone, not having that social isolation.”

To bring people together, all meals are served family style. Because it’s likely to be their only meal, it meets 100 percent of nutritional requirements. Bushey said one of the first things guests ask for is a salad. Thanks to donations from local growers, they’re able to provide fresh, organic produce.

Silicon Valley is an epicenter of economic wealth. A glance at real estate prices and the number of luxury cars on Bay Area freeways will support that fact. Yet for each McMansion in suburbia and every BMW in the commuter lane are hungry mouths and discouraged hearts. But while it seems there might be an extreme disparity in the distribution of wealth, the difference between the haves and the have nots is closer than most South Valley residents might think.

Bushey said the homeless population has gone up 31 percent in Santa Clara County since last year. That’s not counting the 375,000 people in Santa Clara County who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. There are an estimated 730,000 food insecure individuals in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, the regions Loaves & Fishes serve. Many of them are people seen on the streets every day.

“You already know them,” Bushey said. “They might be couch surfing, doing what circumstances dictate. But these are our neighbors, families, seniors, veterans, and students. San Jose State University alone has 6,000 homeless students. About 25 percent of our guests are veterans. Sadly, one third are children. And, one third are seniors. For a region that wants to be on the cutting edge, we are the third largest center of homelessness and hungry in the country. Those are lists we don’t want to be at the top of, let alone even be on. Surely we can do better.”

And those numbers keep rising. In the past four years, Loaves & Fishes has increased and streamlined services to accommodate the growing number of residents needing hot meals and support every day, not just on major holidays. They partner with 55 nonprofits to provide meals at low-income senior retirement centers, community centers, schools, and after-school programs. All are welcomed, no questions asked.

Homelessness and hunger can have negative effects on an individual’s mental health and self-esteem. “You don’t have to be defined by this,” Bushey said. “It can be all consuming just to make it through the day. How do you talk about hope when you’re hungry, and the future feels so insecure?”

That hope rises in the goodness of others, committed to serving as their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Bushey said, “The blessing for us is that as we’ve seen numbers of guests continue to tick up, we’ve also seen numbers of volunteers go up. It can, in a very meaningful way, make a transformational difference. For the most part, this may be the only kindness they get in a day. The only meal they’ll get in a day. The hands and hearts that serve it may provide the only kindness they experience as well. It’s not just about enjoying a hot meal. It’s about doing that in as welcoming and respectful and dignified and kind way as they can. When you do things for the sake of the community, we are all lifted up.”

Hunger and homelessness are ruinous sidekicks. Where one goes, the other often follows.

“Yet there’s such a simple solution,” Bushey said. “We do one thing and as simple as that is, it’s also that profound. If you come to our door, and you’re hungry, we’re going to feed you.”

An interview of CEO, Gisela Bushey by Morgan Hill Times, Life Section

St. Christopher Parish - Brown Bag Lunch & Hygiene Kit

This Lent, we . . .

Pray, Fast, Serve

Parish-Wide Service Project Results

Weekend of April 6th and 7th

After learning about the reality of hunger in our community, the people of people of Saint Christopher Parish responded wonderfully, as you always do.  Thanks to all of you, we were able to make 858 sandwiches from 78 loaves of bread and assemble 200 hygiene kits.  Our service project won’t end hunger, but as Saint Teresa of Kolkata said, we can still "do small things with great love."

Works of mercy like this not only touch the lives of those we serve, they touch our lives as well.  We become more aware of the need and energized in serving others.  There are many needs and many opportunities to serve our neighbor and we will keep finding ways of involving our Parish members in carrying the Gospel message into our community.

Many thanks to all who made sandwiches and hygiene kits, to all who prayed for those in need, to all the school children who decorated the lunch bags, to all the confirmation students who served as table hosts, and to all who helped set up, clean up, and make the service project run smoothly.  Our special thanks to Loaves & Kitchen Family Kitchen, without whom we would not have been to serve our neighbor so well.  https://www.loavesfishes.org/.

Affordable Housing and Hunger – Inextricably Linked, and Creating an Environment of Extreme Need  

 It’s a case of one element creating an inordinate amount of pressure on its related parts.  We live in a region where – for those who can afford it - the cost of housing easily consumes more than 65% of people’s income (Univ. of Santa Cruz Study, 12/2018), leaving little left over for those other, equally important matters that are a part of our lives such as food, medicine, and utilities…things that can never be considered luxuries. 

720,000 of our neighbors in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties  go to bed each night not knowing where their next meal is coming from.  1 in 3 of those we serve meals to are children .

720,000 of our neighbors in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties go to bed each night not knowing where their next meal is coming from. 1 in 3 of those we serve meals to are children.

In Silicon Valley - one of the richest regions in America - families, children, seniors, veterans and students must deal with hunger and homelessness every day throughout our communities. 720,000 of our neighbors in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties go to bed each night not knowing where their next meal is coming from.  Here at Loaves and Fishes, we reached an unhappy milestone last year:  we served over half a million meals to the most vulnerable in our communities through our 3 meal service sites and 55 partner organizations where we deliver hot nutritious meals five days a week.  Of particular concern is the fact that 1 in 3 of those we serve meals to are children. For children at every age, food is fuel, and they cannot properly learn if their nutritional needs are not met.

Since the passage of bond Measure A in 2016, which will provide $950 million dollars to create or preserve affordable housing in Santa Clara County, a much-needed spotlight has been focused on the issue of affordable housing in Silicon Valley. 

Joining the movement to increase affordable housing stock is a $50 million dollar commitment from Cisco, $100 million recently allocated by the City of San Jose and $67 million in affordable housing funds that have been provided by San Mateo County’s Affordable Housing Fund since their inception.  These funds will provide much-needed affordable housing for extremely-low, very-low and homeless populations, including families, individuals, seniors and veterans.  No one applauds these efforts more than we do.  We see the effects of a lack of affordable housing every day on the guests we serve.

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Here’s the dilemma -  the affordable housing units to be funded from these sources will not come online for occupancy for 3 – 10 years.  Most still have multiple rounds of loan, permit and environmental impact approvals to go through.  These desperately needed units will provide welcome relief to the homeless and hungry who cite a lack of affordable housing as the number one contributing factor to their current situation.  The problem is, this progress does not help address the situation and circumstances faced by the homeless and hungry today

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Folks who come to us for hot nutritious meals – for the majority the only meal they will have that day - do not have a “pause button” to hit on their hunger or their need to obtain food for their family.  People cannot wait because hunger won’t wait. Hunger marches on its own timeline, and for our most vulnerable neighbors in need that timeline started yesterday, continues each and every day, and will not end until there is equity at all levels of our society. 

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We must make meeting the needs of the hungry and homeless a part of our current and long-term conversations around housing.  They are inextricably linked – if you cannot afford current housing prices, you become homeless, and if you are spending most what precious little funds you may have coming in on housing, you don’t have enough to meet your other needs.  In the end, the result is the same – people are hungry, and we have a moral obligation, in the richest country in the world, to ensure that no one - adult, child, senior, veteran or disabled – be forced to choose between shelter and sustenance.  We are better than this.  We must be better than this.

Contributed by Gisela B. Bushey, Chief Executive Officer, Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen