San Jose is partnering with a food truck company to provide free groceries and meals for those at risk of COVID-19
As the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity in Santa Clara County and across the Bay Area, nonprofits, food banks and government officials are working to provide food assistance to residents, from workers and business owners to older adults and people with underlying medical conditions.
Off the Grid, the Bay Area’s food truck and catering company, has partnered with the city to launch the San Jose COVID Food Relief Program. With support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the program received $ 2.3 million in food delivery and $ 622,400 in meals for vulnerable populations.
The program, which began October 22nd, is delivering free groceries such as local produce, whole grains and protein, and ready-made meals to people affected by COVID-19. It runs until December 30th.
“It’s an amazing program. It is really up to date. There are many people who are negatively affected by COVID from a food perspective, ”said Suresh Khanna, Chief Operating Officer at Off the Grid. The program supports local communities with “beautiful, organic, freshly cut products for those affected”.
San Jose residents whose jobs or businesses are affected by COVID-19 are eligible for the program. People at high risk of severe COVID-19 illnesses such as older adults 65 and over and people with certain underlying medical conditions may also qualify.
While local residents already enrolled in a food aid program are not eligible for the program, about 70 percent of applicants have qualified for the program, with hundreds of registrations and thousands of slots left over daily, according to Off the Grid Marketing Director Ashleigh Bilodeaux.
The fresh produce of the San Jose COVID Food Relief Program. Photo by Nicholas Chan.
The majority of the participants receive food weekly. Additionally, Off the Grid has worked with grocery vendors such as San Jose-based food truck company Waffle Roost to provide ready-made meals for those with no kitchen access or for those who cannot prepare their own meals.
“It’s a business for us and it does something good for other people who are currently struggling or unable to cater for themselves,” said Justin Funamura, owner of Waffle Roost, which serves Latin American and Chinese dishes.
In fact, the number of people seeking food aid in Santa Clara County has risen sharply since the first on-site ordinance went into effect in March. For the second harvest in Silicon Valley, which is not part of the San Jose COVID Food Relief program, the number of calls to the food connection hotline increased by around 970%. 14,000 calls were received in April, compared with nearly 1,300 in February. While the number of calls has decreased since the peak in April, the food bank still received more than 6,000 calls in September.
“We look after twice as many people as we did before the pandemic – over half a million every month. And (we) give twice as much food to the community, ”said Tracy Weatherby, vice president of strategy and advocacy for Second Harvest. “Because of the pandemic, there is a pandemic associated with an economic crisis and we don’t think it will be resolved anytime soon. We assume that this higher demand will be long-term. “
The number of people in the county receiving CalFresh, the state-funded food aid program, rose more than 20 percent from more than 84,000 in February to over 102,000 in September, according to the Santa Clara County’s Social Services Agency. The number of applicants for Calfresh has decreased but is still higher compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Since the pandemic began, Second Harvest and partner organizations have expanded the home delivery program, providing groceries for older adults who are unable to leave their homes or find someone to collect their groceries from Second Harvest’s food distribution locations, serving an average of 5,500 households per month.
Meanwhile, Off the Grid has partnered with Veggielution, a community farm in the Mayfair neighborhood of San Jose, and the nonprofit Fresh Approach to identify and work with other local farms to help participants in the COVID Food Relief program in San Jose Jose providing groceries.
One of the local farms that provide fresh produce for the program is Spade & Plow in San Martin.
“We’re all residents of Santa Clara County and it’s important to have a business that feeds our community.” said Sam Thorpe, co-owner of Spade & Plow. While the number of farms in the county is decreasing each year, their focus on providing food to local residents is vital to maintaining the county’s agriculture.
As Spade & Plow tackles the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming winter season, Thorpe said the food aid program and other initiatives are generating additional revenue for the company and providing them “a really good opportunity to keep people employed and to keep growing more food feed more people. “
Visit the Off the Grid website for more information on the COVID Food Relief Program in San Jose or call 408-351-8238
To call Second Harvest’s food connection hotline, call 1-800-984-3663
Contact Nicholas Chan at [email protected] or follow @nicholaschanhk on Twitter.