Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes Director Ashley Bridges explains the different areas of the organization's food pantry in Watsonville. —Johanna Miller/The Pajaronian

After the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit Watsonville in October of 1989, a group of people from St. Patrick’s Church established an emergency feeding program, aiming to support those affected by the disaster.

Now, 30 years later, Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes (PVLF) is once again serving its community in a time of crisis. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown many people into a state of food insecurity, as stay-at-home restrictions aiming to slow the spread of the virus have shut down many businesses and other places of work.

PVLF’s new Director, Ashley Bridges, said that the nonprofit has seen a new demographic showing up at their door—most notably, laid off service industry workers.

“People who never thought they would need the services of a food pantry are suddenly coming here in a panic,” Bridges said. “Some have been almost in tears.”

PVLF, which is run by three full-time employees and a team of volunteers, is bracing for another wave of need after Santa Cruz County ordered the closure of more businesses in response to being on the state’s Monitoring List. Gyms, barbershops and salons, places of worship and indoor shopping malls shuttered on Tuesday.

“We never closed our doors at the start [of the pandemic], and we will continue to do what we can to feed people in a safe manner this time as well,” Bridges said.

Bridges became Director in mid-May after 12 years of volunteering at PVLF. She said the down-to-earth feel of the organization kept her coming back.

“We are small, and very connected to the community,” she said. “The people who come here are amazing, humble and kind. I’ve never had a bad day.”

In 1994, PVLF branched off from St. Patrick’s and became its own entity, while still remaining headquartered at the church. It wasn’t until 2000 that the organization found a new home, after Richard and Mary Solari and other local donors helped them purchase and renovate a Victorian house on Second Street.

Bridges said that the house itself has a history of outreach. The daughter of the family who owned it prior claimed that her mother would often go out to the nearby train tracks and feed homeless people there.

“This house has always been associated with feeding people and helping those in need,” Bridges said.

PVLF receives most of its donations from other local organizations, markets and farms. About 90% of its pantry items come from Second Harvest Food Bank. Sumano’s Bakery donates bread for sandwiches, and neighbor La Rosa Market also donates products. Watsonville’s Live Earth Farm has been sending over about 13 crates of fresh produce every week.

To supplement needs, PVLF also uses some of its own funds to purchase food from local grocery stores.

The ongoing shutdown has forced the nonprofit to temporarily close its community dining area. Its free lunch program, held Monday-Friday noon-1pm, is now to-go only. The lunch is available to anyone; you do not need to sign up in advance. 

The PVLF food pantry is open Monday-Friday 9am-11:30am and 1-3pm for those meeting the USDA’s income-based parameters.

The organization is currently accepting donations of money and non-expired food items, in particular healthy items with good calories. Every client is different, Bridges said, with their own specific needs. New volunteers are also welcome.

“We would not be able to function without [our volunteers],” Bridges said. “They are the backbone of this organization.”

For information call 722-4144 or email [email protected].

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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