By Andrea Pyka

With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to spread some holiday cheer around the Santa Cruz community than donating a bag of food to families in need?

This holiday season, UC Santa Cruz, together with the Second Harvest Food Bank, is organizing the annual Holiday Food Drive.

KathrynLlewellyn-Herne, development coordinator for Second Harvest Food Bank in Watsonville, said that the holiday season is an ideal time for people to get involved with the community.

“People think we are here to feed, but that is not our main goal,” Llewellyn-Herne said. “Our mission is to educate and involve individuals in the community [in helping] to help alleviate malnutrition in the community.”

According to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz and San Benito County website, Second Harvest was originally founded in 1972 and began distributing food from a parking lot in Santa Cruz to groups operating the Breakfast for Kids programs. Today, Second Harvest distributes 5.8 million pounds of food per year to local hungry families, children, individuals and seniors in the community.

Llewellyn-Herne said that the Second Harvest Food Bank in Watsonville supplies food to various agencies, such as the Salvation Army, the Boys and Girls Club, and Crisis Centers.

“We are a distribution hub for 160 agencies that come to the Second Harvest Food Bank to shop for food and go to communities to serve hot food to families,” Llewellyn-Herne said. She added that local businesses and churches supply a large amount of food, like Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, which donated 300,000 pounds of food.

This year, the Watsonville Food Bank, which was the first food bank in California and is the second-oldest food bank in the nation, hopes to collect approximately 1.6 million pounds of food.

While the food bank continues to get the word out about the food drive through letters and promotional work on TV and radio, Llewellyn-Herne said that the food bank can always use the help of volunteers, for tasks, from computer work to assisting drivers in picking up bags of donated food.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the help of the volunteers,” she said.

During the ongoing food drive, UCSC students can donate food, money and any free-time to helping families in the community.

According to Nicole Teutschel, director of the UCSC Student Volunteer Center (SVC) and a fourth-year marine biology major, the holiday season is a particularly important time for students to get involved.

“The Food Harvest in Watsonville collects donations year-round. That’s why it’s important to go all out, because they expect large donations around the holiday season,” Teutschel said.

This year, SVC is hosting their annual Meal Plan and Flexi Dollar Drive, where students can donate their remaining Flexi Dollars and guest meals to the Second Harvest Food Bank. With every $1 donated, the Second Harvest Food Bank distributes $9 worth of food to the community.

“It’s such a shame to put a meal to waste, this is a fun and easy way to contribute,” Teutschel said.

In order to promote this year’s UCSC Food Drive, college residential assistants (RAs) are encouraging their students to compete with other colleges to see who can collect the largest amount of food.

The RA whose residents have the highest percentage of student involvement is to receive the Harvest Hero Award. This year, UCSC is awarding an original skate work deck that was donated by a community member to the RA that goes out of their way to help students and the community.

According to Donna Blitzer, director of UCSC Government and Community Relations, the food drive consists of a large volunteer committee including campus staff, representatives from the Staff Advisory Board and the SVC.

“[This year] the campus’ goal is to collect 75,000 pounds of food and cash-equivalent donations,” Blitzer wrote in an e-mail. “Last year we collected 81,835 pounds.”

The food drive will last through Dec. 7, but UCSC is taking donations until the end of the year. Students can drop off cash or non-perishable food donations at barrels located at various locations around campus, including campus mail stops and the student volunteer center.