Second Harvest Food Bank is Fresh for the Holidays – Orange County Register

Just in time for Thanksgiving this week, the Second Harvest Food Bank hosted its 40th Anniversary “No Lunch” campaign, marking a new focus for the organization on providing free and equitable access to fresh food for communities across Orange County.

The luncheon, held at Second Harvest’s Irvine headquarters, honored 300 of its volunteers, donors and partners, and CEO Claudia Bonilla Keller also spoke to the audience about why it was imperative for the food bank to update its mission going forward.

“Our new vision, which we work towards every day at this food bank, is an Orange County with food and nutrition security for all,” Keller said. “Yes, we feed ourselves, but we also strive to serve the most nutritious food we can to help lift our needy neighbors out of poverty.

“It is our mission,” she said, “in collaboration with our partners, to provide dignified, equitable and consistent access to nutritious food and to lay a foundation for community health.”

The organization’s recent expansion includes two new farms — a smaller Founders Farm and their 45-acre Harvest Solutions farm — and 16,000 square feet of cooler space that will help the food bank accommodate an influx of fresh food and produce to meet its new healthier mission , such as vegetables, fruit, milk, lean protein, and eggs that are purchased, grown, or donated.

Across 310 local grocery stores in Orange County, Second Harvest serves about 332,000 people a month — a significant increase from the pre-pandemic average of 249,000 people.

During the pandemic, many county organizations have stepped up to help Second Harvest meet the rapidly growing needs seen during the pivotal period at the height of the pandemic, when needs swelled to 650,000 people per month.

Keller pointed out the mural recently installed on the walls of Second Harvest Food Bank’s Irvine headquarters.

“The faces on the side of the building are real people that we serve,” Keller told the audience. “They have allowed their images to be shared as a representation of the people we serve, the community we represent, and this mural is a gift from this plaque to Orange County because it stands with us through the darkest of times.” It’s a constant reminder that if we all stand together, we can get through any crisis.”

In all of Second Harvest’s 40 years, the last two represent the greatest pivot in its approach to caring for the community, its leadership said.

“We’re on a nutrition mission,” said Dareen Khatib, Health and Wellness Officer for the Orange County Department of Education, Board Member of Second Harvest and Chair of the Nutrition Advisory Board. “We want to make sure we’re not just giving any kind of food, but make sure it’s high-quality food that nourishes the body and mind and promotes social well-being.”

Khatib said that while health comes first by being concerned with what type of food the community’s pantries are stocked with, Second Harvest also gives people a choice in the food they receive – that’s giving with dignity.

And it’s all “a team effort,” Keller said. In 2022, Second Harvest distributed 33 million pounds of food at its distribution center and farm through 285 partner groups and 37,000 volunteer hours. The effort also required a fleet of trucks to travel 97,000 miles — a distance equivalent to circumnavigating the world four times, Keller said.

“We like to think of ourselves as developing new and innovative ways to address an age-old problem of not just food shortages, but food insecurity,” said Keller. “If we can bring good food to the people who need it most, maybe we can make an impact on their health. And if we can influence health outcomes, their trajectory opens up all the more.”

Keller said the groundwork Second Harvest is doing to provide access to consistent, nutritious food should create healthy lifestyles for even Orange County’s most troubled communities, with the result being more opportunity, self-sufficiency, and economic and health growth .

“I love this idea that we create opportunities for equal access to healthy food,” Khatib said. “It’s not enough to just say, ‘Here’s something to eat’, but rather to ensure people feel we’re honoring who they are and what they need by offering a variety of foods, that match their cultural background and diet.”

To volunteer at the Harvest Solutions Farm, the Irvine Food Bank Distribution Center, or to donate to the Second Harvest Food Bank, go to or email Second Harvest Food Bank is Fresh for the Holidays – Orange County Register

Dais Johnston

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