Corps Story: SJCC+CS Packs Food for Families in Need

This fall, The Corps Network is featuring Corps stories around the theme of “harvest season.” These stories demonstrate Corps helping address food insecurity.

Story by Jaime Croteau
Strategy and Development Director, San Jose Conservation Corps + Charter School 

Last spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world and society retreated inside and adapted to social distancing, the San Jose Conservation Corps + Charter School (SJCC+CS), realized its services would be needed more than ever.

The economic crisis that accompanied the virus has resulted in skyrocketing rates of housing and food insecurity, exacerbating the inequity already present in Silicon Valley. In fact, as measured by the Santa Clara County Hunger Index, food insecurity in the area has doubled during the pandemic.

SJCC+CS, like other Corps, is set up to quickly and efficiently respond to emergencies and unmet community needs. Recognizing this, the City of San Jose contracted SJCC+CS to fill the expanding workforce needs of Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley. Since mid-June, SJCC+CS Corpsmembers have been boxing food for the most vulnerable members of their community, with a current average of about 90 Corpsmembers working every day across three different warehouses.

“It’s really inspiring to see these amazing young people get involved in their community and make a real difference in the lives of so many people.”

“When the pandemic hit our community, the number of people we served doubled in just a matter of weeks. At the same time, we lost a large portion of our volunteer workforce due to stay at home orders…We were in the very challenging position of handing out twice the amount of food, but with a fraction of our volunteers,” said Leslie Bacho, CEO of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley. “The members of the San Jose Conservation Corps stepped in at a critical time to fill that void and have helped ensure that nutritious food gets to the people who need it most. It’s really inspiring to see these amazing young people get involved in their community and make a real difference in the lives of so many people.”

Because of the quick response from the community, the city says that a widespread food crisis has been avoided. The scale of this response is seen in the numbers. Since SJCC+CS has been assisting Second Harvest, Corpsmembers and staff have packed approximately 5.5 million pounds of food and have helped feed about 180,000 families.

In order to meet the demand of the project, SJCC+CS has even partnered with other local Corps in California. The Cesar Chavez Environmental Corps, Conservation Corps of Long Beach, Los Angeles Conservation Corps and the California Conservation Corps have all lent a hand to create a great example of cross-corps collaboration while contributing to an impressive impact.

In addition to the positive results for the families receiving food, the project has offered an opportunity for Corpsmembers to develop skills while earning money to support themselves and their families.

“Providing support services during emergencies provides transformational growth opportunities for our young adults as they realize that their efforts can make a meaningful difference to those in need.”

“We are grateful to the City of San Jose for contracting us to provide food boxing services to Second Harvest. For decades, Second Harvest has provided food to SJCC for our Corpsmembers and students. It is great to be able to support Second Harvest of Silicon Valley in return to help feed our community’s most vulnerable people,” said Dorsey Moore, Executive Director of SJCC+CS. “Providing support services during emergencies provides transformational growth opportunities for our young adults as they realize that their efforts can make a meaningful difference to those in need.”

In talking with Corpsmembers involved with the project, it is clear that Dorsey is right about the opportunities for growth.

Corpsmember Eduardo Gonzalez was looking for a warehouse job three months ago when he came across the opportunity to join SJCC. In addition to getting experience in a warehouse like he wanted, he’s also taking on more responsibilities and is currently applying to be a Crew Leader.

“I’ve never had a leadership role and I think it’d be nice to try it out. I feel like with this place I have the experience for it,” says Eduardo.

Dean Nguyen was recruited as a Corpsmember for this project and has moved up to be a Crew Leader, with his eyes on a staff position.

Dean says, “I think that being here helped me learn a lot of skills in the warehouse and in general how a strong management works.” He has used those leadership skills to develop and motivate his own crew, which he describes as “really solid.” Although Dean was originally looking for any job to pay rent, he’s taken full advantage of all that the Corps offers him and appreciates the positive impact of his work.

“It feels nice knowing that me and my crew and the rest of the Corps are helping families in need and it makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger. Helping the community: it’s always good, right?”

We definitely agree, Dean.