San Jose free food pilot feeds those in need
Residents of Curtner Studios in San Jose are able to get free food through a pilot program between First Community Housing, Joint Venture Silicon Valley, Martha's Kitchen and the county. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

    Residents in affordable housing across San Jose and Palo Alto have access to free food through an effort to prevent food waste and provide support to low-income families.

    First Community Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, is offering free groceries in a pilot program at Iamesi Village in downtown San Jose and Curtner Studios near Guadalupe Parkway. Alta Housing is also providing free food to its Colorado Park residents in Palo Alto through the same program.

    Residents can access fresh fruits and vegetables, packaged goods and meat provided by San Jose-based Martha’s Kitchen, a nonprofit soup kitchen. The program is still in its pilot phase and contributors are trying out different methods of distribution to make the process easily accessible to residents. Food is currently distributed three times a week at the First Community Housing sites, to increase accessibility for residents who work.

    One of the commercial-grade fridges at the affordable housing sites. Photo courtesy of Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

    Edith Figueroa, community impact programs manager for First Community Housing, said what makes this program special is that residents have access to food in their homes and outside of the work day.

    “The fact that we’re able to do this for our residents is a privilege,” Figueroa told San José Spotlight.

    The program is funded until September with $159,100 from a grant given to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department through the CalFresh Healthy Living Program. Depending on the success of the pilot, funding could continue for the next three years.

    “Programs like this are essential to be able to provide food to people that have particular needs,” Joanne Seavey, county public health department program manager for food systems and active living, told San José Spotlight.

    Alta Housing did not respond to requests for comment.

    Robin Martin, executive director of Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s food recovery initiative, said the concept was spurred by working with Stanford University students to reduce food waste. The idea was to take quality surplus food being thrown away by restaurants, grocery stores and colleges and give it to residents facing food insecurity. Joint Venture facilitates the pilot program at the affordable housing sites.

    “We want to be a part of that solution, feeding folks that need us,” Martin told San José Spotlight.

    Food insecurity has worsened in Silicon Valley over the last few years. Roughly 155,000 residents received help last year from CalFresh, also known as the California Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to the 2023 Silicon Valley Pain Index—a report that focuses on racial discrimination and wealth inequality. More than 16,800 residents have received free food in the last year from a market hosted at Mexican Heritage Plaza—and local food bank Second Harvest of Silicon Valley is serving more than 500,000 residents every month. Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen now prepares close to 2 million hot meals.

    Bill Lee, executive director of Martha’s Kitchen, said the pilot program could scale up to a larger level to help those who need access to food.

    “We don’t want our neighbors to go hungry,” he told San José Spotlight.

    The program helps residents facing food insecurity maintain a healthier diet, while also aiding the climate through reducing food waste.

    “It’s a win-win for everybody in order to make sure that residents of our county are getting the healthiest life possible,” Seavey said.

    Joint Venture Silicon Valley hopes to expand the program in October after learning from the pilot phase.

    We’re thinking of way more ways to get recovered food to folks that need it,” Martin said.

    Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

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