When you think of the City of Capitola do you automatically think of poverty? Most people think of a beach town, surfing, the mall, or the other side of Santa Cruz without homeless people. The reality is that 11.6% of the population lives below the federal poverty line (2012 Census), that is 1,171 residents who are food insecure. These residents lacked access to a local food distribution, until Kimberly Ferguson, Resident Services Coordinator of Bay Avenue Senior Apartments became the first SHFB pantry in the City of Capitola.
The pantry has been open for 1 1/2 years and helps an average of 100 unduplicated individuals. On busy months they have served up to 150+ people. Ferguson’s office is magically transformed by volunteers into a pantry twice a month. All of the food going out their door comes from SHFB. About 65% of residents attend the pantry distribution and they report they are happy to not have to take the bus or spend money on gas to drive to other pantries. Although residents have to be over 55 to live in the apartments, the pantry is open to the public and accepts SHFB Hotline referrals.
Ferguson felt empowered to provide food to residents because she witnessed many seniors had little to no income to purchase food because of their fixed income and high living and medical expenses. She shared her client’s story, “We have a lot of seniors that are categorically ineligible for CalFresh due to SSI. I have one resident who gets $7 through SSI and so is categorically ineligible for $200 of CalFresh. There’s really no way around that.” Word spread quickly among the community of the valuable free resource; full-time employed adults -several who work on the wharf- pick-up food to feed their children and supplement low-wages.
The vision Ferguson has for the pantry goes beyond giving food. She informed us, “We have tons of produce and we do a lot of recipes because people ask ‘Well how do I use this’ or ‘What is this?.'” She also offers clients great advice to save money and have food for scarce months, ” We’re teaching people how to freeze strawberries, how to freeze the abundance of produce that we have to get them through the winter.” To raise the bar, Ferguson is an avid advocate for her clients, helps them connect to safety net programs like CalFresh or SSI, and addresses elected official about food insecurity issues in Capitola.
Ferguson and her team of volunteers inadvertently- or consciously- operate a comprehensive food program that has transformed residents and neighbors into a supportive community. Bay Avenue Senior Apartment’s pantry has become a very valuable resource for the SHFB agency network, and has proved that there are creative efforts to ensure food insecure people do not fall through the gaps in our county.