South Bay families cling to hope of more aid as demand doubles at food banks
Tracy Tran and her husband, Steven Nguyen, with their two children Samuel and Noah, in their backyard on Aug. 16. (Courtesy of Tracy Tran)

Tracy Tran and her husband fear they may soon have to file for bankruptcy.

Tran works as a manicurist at La Orquidea Nail Salon and Spa in Los Gatos. Her husband runs the business, and Tran is one of 23 employees. The couple filed for unemployment benefits shortly after the salon shut down in March.

Between paying the mortgage, the rent on their business and supporting their family, the couple can’t make ends meet.

“We can survive for a few more months, that’s all,” Tran said. The couple had ample savings and received community support at the beginning of the pandemic. But if they can’t go back to work, “We’ll have to file for bankruptcy.”

On Aug. 10, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state does not have enough funds to pick up the required portion of the bill for President Trump’s new order for an additional $400 in benefits. The money the state received from the CARES act months ago already has been allocated, he said, and it would cost the state government $700 million per week to try and sustain the extra benefits.

Food banks witness the struggle

Leslie Bachon, CEO of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, has seen an increased demand for food bank services at the nonprofit’s distribution sites across the South Bay. The demand has increased, she says, since the extra $600 in unemployment benefits have stopped.

“It’s something we are very concerned about because we know this is likely to be devastating for the families we serve,” Bachon said. “That additional $600 could make all the difference.”

Bachon confirmed Second Harvest has been preparing for an even greater spike in demand in the next few weeks, especially if no deal is reached in Congress on extending enhanced unemployment benefits.

Prior to the pandemic, Second Harvest served about 250,000 people per month in Silicon Valley. Now, that demand has doubled to about 500,000. Bachon says those running Second Harvest know they’ll have to provide this level of service to the Silicon Valley community for a year to 18 months.

“It will take a long time for families to recover from this level of disruption,” Bachon said.

With 500,000 Silicon Valley residents in need of food each week, the nonprofit has rented out a fourth warehouse space and sought additional volunteer assistance for help with distribution.

Patricia Hernandez works for Second Harvest’s food distribution hotline and says she talks with people with varying levels of need every day. For some individuals and family, this is the first time they’ve ever needed to ask for help from a food bank. In the beginning, she said, “It was chaotic.”

“There’s definitely a lot of people out there that don’t know if they’re going to be able get that $400 extra (in unemployment),” Hernandez said. “They’re looking at their options.”

Fear and confusion

“What’s so unfortunate and short-sighted is that so many people are just living on the edge of being able to maintain their housing,” Bachon said. “So many people in our community don’t have any savings, so just a single event like this can launch someone into poverty.”

Leann Truong owns Leann’s Nails in Alameda. She hasn’t worked since March, and feels completely hopeless.

“It’s so sad. I’m depressed. I’m scared,” Truong said.

She’s run her salon for 25 years and has worked pretty much seven days a week the entire time. A Vietnamese immigrant and former high school teacher, Truong has never seen anything like this before. Luckily, her husband has been able to keep his job as a truck driver. But meanwhile, Truong stays at home with her thoughts and fears.

“If you own a house in the Bay Area, it’s hard. It’s expensive,” Truong said. “I don’t know what to do.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MadelynGReese

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