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March 27, 2023

Second Harvest Food Bank CEO to retire

WATSONVILLE—Willy Elliott-McCrea, who has led Second Harvest Food Bank for more than three decades, will retire in July 2022, the food bank announced Thursday.

McCrea started as a driver for the center in 1978 and was promoted to director 10 years later. Under his tenure, the food bank expanded services fourfold and added a giant warehouse and massive refrigerated storage spaces.

It also expanded its services to thousands of people who need help feeding their families.

McCrea led the food bank through the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake when Second Harvest saw a sixfold increase in people seeking food. The food bank has also helped people in the aftermath of other disasters such as the CZU Lightning Complex fires. 

Since the start of the pandemic, Second Harvest has seen the need in the community double.

“(The earthquake) was just one of the many natural disasters to strike our community, which also included floods, fires and a global pandemic,” food bank spokeswoman Suzanne Willis said. “Willy was able to use his knowledge and experience to help the residents of Santa Cruz County.”

Under his leadership, Willis said, Second Harvest consistently ranked in the top 2% of healthiest food banks in the U.S., with more than 60% of food distributed being fresh fruits and vegetables.

McCrea was Founding President of the California Association of Food Banks from 1995-98 and shaped the future of California Food Banks, Willis said.

After he reached out to Congressman Jimmy Panetta when government officials issued shelter-in-place orders, members of Congress and California Gov. Gavin Newsom deployed the U.S. National Guard to food banks across California to ensure continued distribution throughout the state, Willis said. 

Second Harvest will now launch a nationwide search for McCrea’s replacement, she said.


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