Team San Jose pivots from conferences to coronavirus aid
Team San Jose staff members work in an assembly line to prepare three meals a day, including one hot dinner, to people sheltering in place inside the McEnery Convention Center and other locations. Photo by Nicholas Chan.

Team San Jose – once the marketing giant for the city and the managing force behind its conventions – has pivoted its in-house catering to provide meals to shelters housing people impacted by COVID-19.

The city of San Jose converted Parkside Hall and South Hall, both part of the McEnery Convention Center which is operated by Team San Jose, into homeless shelters on March 31. Team San Jose is now managing the food, sanitation and other operations for the shelters. The shift come after Team San Jose was forced to lay off a staggering 1,304 employees as a result of a sudden decline in convention business as major events and conferences got canceled because of the pandemic.

But the agency is using its remaining resources to help the city it calls home.

“Just like if you were having a convention or some other event, we work with the organizers to make sure everything is managed,” Frances Wong, the director of marketing and communications for Team San Jose.

Since March 31,  Team San Jose has provided three restaurant-quality meals per day to residents in the shelters with ingredients sourced or donated from local vendors and farmers.

The city authorized Team San Jose to make and transport meals to 14 other locations since March, including hotels rented by the county for frontline workers or other vulnerable populations. They are expected to have delivered more than 90,000 meals.

The expansion of the program has allowed Team San Jose to rehire about 25 food preparation, operations and sanitation employees. As the program continues to grow, the organization plans to rehire more employees based on the needs of the locations.

“This is a great opportunity for our food and beverage team to enact those social distancing measures,” Wong said. “When convention centers are allowed to open, we’ll be one of the most well-prepared.”

Team San Jose also partners with Hunger at Home, a Santa Clara county nonprofit that serves as a conduit between convention centers, hotels and nonprofit organizations to donate excess food to homeless residents.

“We had a huge amount of donations from our existing hotel and resort partners that lasted about eight to 10 days,” said Hunger at Home CEO Ewell Sterner.

Several executive chefs and Team San Jose employees who had been laid off came to volunteer for Hunger at Home, shifting the organization’s model from distribution to production, Sterner said.

Since March, Hunger at Home has produced and distributed over 300,000 meals, including about 100,000 that are completely cooked and just require reheating, Sterner said. The rest of the meals are grocery bundles.

Many of the union workers, from Unite Here Local-19 and IATSE Local-134, who worked for Team San Jose before getting laid off are now volunteering with Hunger at Home and receiving meals from the organization. Team San Jose is allowing Hunger at Home to use the convention center as a distribution location.

“It’s so strange that our former team members that worked here are now standing in line to get meals here,” Wong said. “It’s a real reality check.”

Both organizations have made significant changes to their business models to serve the needs of scores of South Bay residents struggling to survive during the coronavirus pandemic and economic shutdown.

The Hunger at Home food distribution program supports 22 local nonprofits that distribute about one million meals all year. Team San Jose’s program runs through the city to serve those staying in shelters during the pandemic.

To learn more about the Hunger at Home program, click here.

Contact Stella Lorence at [email protected] or follow @slorence3 on Twitter.

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