A story of compassion with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley
Hello to my brothers and sisters of Grace South Bay! I’m Mei (Corina) Chen, Grace’s new Compassion Coordinator intern. I am so excited to share with you all a new project I’m hoping will continue to grow as our hearts grow too: Stories of Compassion. My parents have begun Stories of Grace, and within and around those stories of grace are vibrant, powerful, and often overlooked stories of compassion.
Grace, mercy, and compassion go hand in hand, with Jesus the unifying knot tying all three threads around the hurting, poor, and overlooked. The beauty of compassion within our own church family is one I hope to celebrate through testimonies of Jesus’s work in our area. As you read these stories, my prayer is that it will strengthen our relationships with each other and with our neighbors.
Silicon Valley is home to billionaires, start-up tech companies, and markets catering to clientele who can afford to pay double for an almond milk latte. And she’s home to sharp division, crazy generosity, and immense poverty gaps. It is through these startling contrasts that we can learn the details of who we are. I’ve grown up with crazy artists living by single mothers sitting beside brilliant inventors. I’ve met immigrant refugees next to world class athletes talking with adaptable teachers. We are surrounded by diversity.
And—we are surrounded by so much hurt. Hurting for work, homes, school, safety, comfort. Most immediately, hurting for food. Individuals, families, and seniors citizens in Santa Clara County are all adversely affected by Covid-19. Specifically, over 500,000 people are presently dealing with food insecurity. Contrast this with the pre-pandemic number of 250,000.
Second Harvest of Silicon Valley recognizes this need and answers it with a simple mission: lead our community to ensure that anyone who needs a healthy meal can get one. A couple Thursday mornings ago, my older sister Kayla Chen, 20, volunteered at Second Harvest’s food distribution site in Campbell. Together, we’ve grown up going to Grace since we were small. I interviewed her recently to hear her story as a volunteer with Second Harvest.
Kayla was led to volunteer because “I wanted to give back to my community, especially with Covid, and all the racial injustice that has been happening, I wanted to be able to do something tangible for my neighbors.”
Describing the event, she explains their grocery program and the beauty of their “goal…just to alleviate hunger [for] not only people as individuals, but whole households in a community.” Within their program, Second Harvest has sign-ups for volunteers to come on a specific morning to a specific location—areas designated around the Bay Area—where they help hand out boxes of food. With Covid-19, their food program has shifted slightly in the form of drive-up cars and no-contact distributions.
For many of us, it’s so easy to stay in a bubble. A bubble of people similar to us in life—work, school, religion, race, class—whatever the characteristic, we find ways to surround ourselves with like-minded people. Through Second Harvest, such bubbles are burst.
Kayla describes this bursting, saying, “I think the demographic surprised me, because I wasn’t expecting it to be so Asian. I didn’t realize that many Asians were underneath the poverty line. So I think that really stood out to me…”
She moves on, addressing how common hunger is in our area, and how the volunteer event really brought her closer to the issue: “When we were there we learned that 1 out of 10 people in Silicon Valley uses Second Harvest, which was truly shocking to me, considering how much wealth is in our area, and yet how many people still can’t afford to feed themselves and their children. So that was a very sobering moment for sure.”
The event also helped Kayla put her life in perspective. “ I realized how much I take for granted certain elements of my life, such as the ability just to go to the store, get groceries, and have access to healthy food. And then fresh food, because that is such a privilege… the basic things that we take for granted.”
As we continued to talk, she explained to me how distributing food in Campbell challenged some of her assumptions about the people within our own community. “Another thing actually that I found really interesting was watching all the cars pull up; it shows that appearances can be really deceiving, and you could be in the nicest car and still struggle in other areas of your life…and just how much people front, I guess. That was very eye-opening.”
I asked her what it was like to volunteer with Second Harvest: “I’ve volunteered there twice and both times there were two people kinda coordinating the whole event. One guy’s name is Lani, and he’s a community volunteer…Seeing Lani’s involvement in the community and how much he has a personal relationship with all the people that he’s serving and helping was super inspiring to see because he, at first glance, has a very, like, tough appearance, but you can tell through his actions and his work how much he has a heart for the people around him, and how much he wants to help other people, and how in a way helping others has been healing for him.”
She adds, “[For] a lot of people, English is not their first language, so there is that language barrier. But if you’re just, I think, friendly and do what you can with the limited communication, I think that means a lot, just that you’re showing up.”
Kayla encourages all of us, sharing that through Second Harvest, she “want[s] to really look around my neighbors and try to see beneath the shiny surfaces and polished appearance…like what’s really going on, and how can I be present in their life.”
“For some of us, if we don’t necessarily have the money to give, time is also very valuable so, if you have the time to donate I would highly, highly suggest coming out to serve with us,” she says, addressing those whose wealth may be in other areas than finances alone.
Second Harvest’s goal is broad and generous. Noting their goal, Kayla reveals how her volunteer experience was eye-opening. Beyond that, she talks of how it inspires her in daily life. “This event helps a very basic need— that everyone needs to be fed and be full—and that got me thinking about ways that I can help serve in very basic, everyday ways. It doesn’t have to be super dramatic, it can be like, ‘Oh I can babysit, or tutor, or drive, or pick up something,’ or just those little services that ultimately can mean so much more.”
Finally she ends our interview: “I’ve learned that the areas that have the greatest wealth also have the greatest poverty, so the wealth disparity is always the biggest when there is the largest concentration, and as someone who has really benefited from like the systems of success, I feel like I also had to give back to the people who were making my life possible.”
The beauty of food is in its power to gather us together. When we are unable to satisfy our hunger for food, we feel empty at the most basic, physical level. During the pandemic, I think both this physical hunger for food, as well as the emotional hunger for community, has been exacerbated. Second Harvest is a beautiful opportunity drawing us closer to our neighbors, friends, and family using the most common human need: food.