pajaro valley loaves and fishes
Nathan Becerril (from right), Michelle Bagley and Leanna Christie serve a hot lunch at Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes in Watsonville during the Monday through Friday free lunch program. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

In the 34 years since it was created, Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes has served hot lunches to hundreds of people and provided food and household goods from its pantry. Roughly 10,000 people receive help every year.

This includes holidays and during times of crisis, said Executive Director Ashley Bridges.

“During the pandemic, we did not close our doors once,” she said. “We stayed open, and that’s a theme with our organization. We are there to help people.”

When the Pajaro River Levee breached and flooded the town of Pajaro early in 2023, Loaves and Fishes went from serving about 100 hot lunches per day to more than 700, an effort that included bringing the meals directly to the residents, Bridges said.

And when this slowed down, fuel costs started to rise along with inflation, she said.

“It’s been a nonstop year of trials for the people we serve,” Bridges said.

More than 600 families came for a recent Thanksgiving distribution, even as hundreds signed up for a similar one for Christmas.

“We’re a small organization, but we feed a lot of people and we do the best we can,” Bridges said. 

All of this is coupled with a nationwide food shortage for food banks nationwide, she said.

“I think it’s a special place,” Bridges said. “Everyone wants to be there to help people and provide food, and I personally enjoy working there.” 

Volunteer Michelle Bagley, who has been working at Loaves and Fishes since March, says it has given her a sense of purpose since her retirement.

“We work hard, and we have a good time and we take care of each other,” she said.

For information, visit


This year, Loaves and Fishes is joining 64 other organizations in Santa Cruz Gives, the largest countywide fundraising campaign in support of local nonprofits.

Fundraising opened Nov. 15 and runs through Dec. 31. To donate, visit

Santa Cruz Gives is funded by the Good Times, Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, Applewood Foundation, Joe Collins, Driscoll’s, Inc., Comcast, Monterey Peninsula Foundation, Santa Cruz County Bank, Wynn Capital Management, The Pajaronian and Press Banner.


Santa Cruz Gives participating organizations

Amah Mutsun Land Trust

Arts Council Santa Cruz County

Association of Faith Communities

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Cruz County

BirchBark Foundation

Black Surf Santa Cruz

Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Cruz County

CASA of Santa Cruz County

Center for Farmworker Families

Community Bridges

Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley

County Park Friends

Coastal Watershed Council

Dientes Community Dental Care

Digital NEST

Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County

Dominican Hospital Foundation

Ecology Action  

Encompass Community Services – Si Se Puede

Esperanza Community Farms

Farm Discovery at Live Earth

Food, What?!

Friends of Santa Cruz Public Libraries

Girls Inc.

Grey Bears

Grower-Shipper Foundation

Habitat for Humanity

Health Projects Center

Homeless Garden Project

Hospice of Santa Cruz County

Housing Matters

Jacob’s Heart


Life Lab

Live Like Coco

Mentors Driving Change for Boys, Men and Dads

Motion Pacific

Planned Parenthood Mar Monte

Pajaro Valley Loaves & Fishes

Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance

Pajaro Valley Shelter Services

Queer Youth Task Force

Regeneración—Pajaro Valley Climate Action

Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery

Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Santa Cruz Shakespeare

Santa Cruz SPCA and Humane Society

Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter Foundation

Santa Cruz Welcoming Network

Second Harvest Food Bank


Senior Network Service

Shared Adventures

Save Our Shores

Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Sustainable Systems Research Foundation

Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center

Teen Kitchen Project


United Way of Santa Cruz County

Vets 4 Vets Santa Cruz

Village Santa Cruz County

Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center

Wings Homeless Advocacy

Watsonville Wetlands Watch

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


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