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'It's a Wonderful Monster That Feeds People'

Second Harvest Food Bank celebrates 40 years of work in Santa Cruz County.

Forty years ago, was the first food bank in California and only the second in the entire nation.

Today, the Watsonville-based food bank distributes 8.4 million pounds of food annually in Santa Cruz County.

The food bank celebrated it's 40th year with a party Friday in the parking lot of its warehouse.

"We have so much to celebrate ... yet its very humbling to realize the need is greater than ever," said Willie Elliott-McCrea, Second Harvest Food Bank Executive Director.

The need for food aid in Santa Cruz County has increased exponentially since the economic downturn; it's up 38 percent since 2008. About 55,000 people receive food from Second Harvest each month.

"The only downside to this celebration is we have a number of families in food crisis," state Assemblyman Bill Monning said.

One of Second Harvest's founders, Michael Alexander, returned to speak about the momentous occasion and how far the food bank has come.

Alexander recalled the day when he picked up the phone to receive a donation of 40 tons of califlower form a Watsonville farmer. The food bank shared it with hungry people throughout California and the donation marked an important shift for Second Harvest—soliciting donations of unwanted produce from the fertile Pajaro Valley fields provided an inexpensive way to get healthy, fresh food to hungry people.

"It's a wonderful monster that feeds people," said Alexander.

Last year, . There, nutrition educators teach families how to prepare healthy meals using fresh ingredients.

Second Harvest also has harnessed community support to fulfill its mission. Last year's and several local businesses partner with the food bank to raise money—$1 can provide four healthy meals.

Ken Kannapapan, President and CEO of Plantronics in Santa Cruz, talked about the importance of . Helping feed people engages employees, and increases their motivation and trust in the company. Plus, it feels good to give back to the community.

"The need here is so acute and we wanted to help," Kannapapan said. "... Second Harvest is one of those known, good needs. It's so pure."

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