Mary Rivera welcomed me into her tiny kitchen located at the Walnut Ave. Women’s Center to show me the food pantry she coordinates for the clients. The kitchen, with about three cupboards, a refrigerator and freezer, and a countertop, verges on being the size of a tiny apartment kitchen. The cozy quarters is just part of what makes this food pantry so remarkable.
Walnut Avenue Women’s Center, located in downtown Santa Cruz, has provided a supportive resource center for women and their families since 1933. Walnut Ave. fosters five different strength-based programs that encourage women to “take control of their lives through personal action and leadership.” Their largest program is their Domestic Violence Services program, which addresses domestic abuse on a personal and educational level. Walnut Ave. serves over 3,000 families per year.
For just around 26 years, Walnut Ave. has received food from the food bank, supplementing it with minimal donations from community members. The pantry operates for women who are part of one of the five programs at Walnut Ave. Mary began working for Walnut Ave. over 12 years ago, and she eventually took on the role of organizing the pantry along with several of her volunteers.
A typical food bag includes fresh salad mix, fresh vegetables and fruit, peanut butter, bread, cereal, eggs, milk, and toiletries. According to Mary, the fruits and veggies come at a high demand, as the clients often prefer fresh over canned. Mary says, “I try to give them healthy foods because Second Harvest provides really, really healthy foods that are free or really low cost.”
Clients in need are able to pick up food once a week at the door of the little kitchen. “For me the feedback I get from them is huge,” Mary says. “A lot of them are on food stamps, and we all know that does not cover the whole month. With the budget cuts a lot of families have been cut back. These food banks make a huge difference because they’re supplemental food.” Coming from such a small space, this huge difference seems exponentially more meaningful.