In Santa Cruz County, Second Harvest Food Bank Brings in the National Guard to Feed the Hungry

By Colleen Leonardi

Willy Elliot-McCrea, CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank in Santa Cruz County, with the National Guard
Willy Elliot-McCrea, in high visibility safety vest, stands with the Army National Guard at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Santa Cruz County, CA.

Food banks in the U.S. provide over 45 million people with food every year. There are over 200 food banks in the country, and one of them, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County, is led by CEO Willy Elliot-McCrea. It’s the first food bank in California, founded in 1972, and the second oldest food bank in the nation. Elliot-McCrea has big shoes to fill and he fills them well.  

“Willy Elliot-McCrea is truly one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met,” writes Deborah Luhrman, editor and publisher of Edible Monterey Bay. “Hardworking, thorough, modest, kind, authentic.”

When the Covid-19 crisis arrived in Santa Cruz the food bank served “about 20% of Santa Cruz County’s population via direct food and nutrition distribution as well as supporting about 100 of the county’s non-profit organizations,” writes Suzanne Willis, development and marketing officer of Second Harvest. Their plate was full, but Elliot-McCrea ushered in more support to continue to meet the needs of his community.

“Second Harvest has seen demand for food shoot through the roof,” writes Luhrman, “and faced with the inability to use regular volunteers, has arranged for the National Guard to come in and help distribute food for the hungry people.”

While the need for distribution has been filled by the National Guard for the time being, Second Harvest is transparent about future hurdles during this international crisis.

“Like any supply chain, one of the main challenges Second Harvest faces is really logistical,” writes Willis. “How can we continue to support the food needs of our community as we move into the economic recovery portion of this international crisis? Are we able to source the needed food (so far yes!), how can we get this food sorted, packed, and distributed?” 

With leadership like Elliot-McCrea, Second Harvest is in good hands. While he started out as a delivery driver, he was the founding president of the California Association of Food Banks from 1995-1998. Elliot-McCrea is also the co-founder of the Ag Against Hunger program, an organization than manages “post-harvest gleanings in the fields of big Salina Valley ag companies.”

Despite challenges, Second Harvest is quick to count their blessings. “What has been truly inspiring and humbling is the community’s response to this health and economic crisis,” writes Willis. “The outpouring of support, neighbors ensuring that neighbors don’t go hungry has been an inspiration and really nourishment for all the Food Bank staff. Our community needs us more than ever.”

And Elliot-McCrea will surely meet those needs with grace and compassion.

Learn more about Second Harvest Food Bank and how you can help at TheFoodBank.org.

Read more Beyond the Plate local food hero storiesLearn more about our partners, Niman Ranch at nimanranch.com.

Get more local stories at Edible Monterey Bay.