On March 6, Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County hosted one of the organization’s biggest events of the year. The celebratory Annual Awards dinner, held at Hotel Paradox in Santa Cruz, honored citizens whose outstanding efforts helped to make the Annual Holiday Food and Fund Drive the most successful yet.
Honorees included businesses, schools and private individuals who raised 4,817,235 meals, exceeding the ambitious goal of 4.8 million meals set by the drive’s two co-chairs, Martina O’Sullivan, engaged citizen, and John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources.
The event officially marked the end of Martina O’Sullivan’s 2-year term. O’Sullivan passed the baton to new co-chair, Megan Martinelli, who will be chairing the event with John Laird for the upcoming Holiday Food & Fund Drive which begins in November.
In addition to the awards recipients who participated in the Annual Food & Fund Drive, the evening celebrated this year’s Hunger Fighters of the Year. Winner Debra Kennedy, fed homeless people for a number of years with her church, and then volunteered with the Salvation Army for the last 35 years.
She was raised in Washington D.C., the youngest of 4 girls. Her husband, William, also from back east, had a career in the Army. After William retired from the service, they were offered relocation assistance to anywhere in the United States — the couple chose rural Watsonville, California.
Upon settling down in Watsonville, Debra raised four children — all of whom went to Aptos High School. The family had animals and they grew their own vegetables. Debra and William joined All Saints Episcopal Church. They became members of the Vestry, and volunteered to serve meals to the homeless. Members of her church nominated her for 35 years of service providing meals to the hungry every week.
The other honoree is Dick Peixoto, local farmer and owner of Lakeside Organic Gardens, the largest family-owned, solely organic vegetable farm in the United States. A native of the Pajaro Valley, Dick’s interest in agriculture began with his grandfather, who emigrated from the Azores in Portugal.
His sponsorship of the food bank, along with the hundreds of thousands of pounds of food that he has donated through the years, have provided over 4 million healthy meals for families, veterans, children and seniors in Santa Cruz County. Dick has also contributed to scholarships and numerous local organizations including shelters, cancer support networks and resources for youth and their families in the Watsonville area.
Noel Smith: Media Supporter Award
The Second Harvest Food Bank recognized the depth of Noel’s commitment to writing the story of hunger for so many years, and how we as a community can come together to feed our neighbors.
Over the years, they could hardly open the Times without seeing an article about fighting hunger.
Rebecca Alaga: Coordinator of the Year Award
Rebecca Alaga, of Dignity Health Dominican, has been a pillar, a main stay coordinating the Dominican Holiday Food and Fund Drive over the years.
Rebecca balanced the rest of her work at Dominican Administration while keeping track of the HFFD 100 mini barrels, multiple email prompts, online giving campaign, cash and checks that end up on her desk.
Natalya Hammond: Outstanding Community Spirit Award
Natalya Hammond was awarded the Outstanding Community Service Award, because she saw hunger in our community and wanted to do something about it.
“I didn’t like seeing hungry people on the streets,” Hammond said. “Over the summer I tried to give leftover food from the Boys and Girls Club to homeless people around downtown. But my mom got scared about my safety and said there was a better way to give food through Second Harvest.”
Natalya began by donating $5 every week from her allowance and got her school involved. The principal, Ms. Amy Thomas, got on the loud speaker and made an announcement about the fundraiser. After that, kids, parents and teachers came to the office and made a contribution.
“It made me really happy that so many people were donating,” Hammond said. “It felt good to do something to help in the community.”
Founded in 1972, Second Harvest Food Bank was the first food bank in California and the second in the nation. Its mission is to end hunger and malnutrition by educating and involving the community. Its network of 200 local agencies and programs feeds 55,000 people in Santa Cruz County every month. Every dollar donated provides four healthy meals. Second Harvest has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator in recognition of its effective stewardship. “Working together to end hunger through healthy food, education and leadership”. www.thefoodbank.org