SANTA CRUZ COUNTY — All staff at Second Harvest Food Bank work hard to provide essential services and programs to the local community. In honor of Pride Month, here are portraits of two nonprofit employees who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
As Director of Human Resources at SHFB, Mary Casey finds satisfaction in seeing the direct impact of the work the Food Bank does and working in an organization where everyone walks, not just talks. For example, at a large-scale food distribution organized by the SFB during the pandemic, all the staff helped.
“Everything was on deck; our CFO was driving the traffic,” Casey recalls, feeling emotional as he recalls the gratitude from the community members – some getting fresh food for their families for the first time in weeks. “I love the urgency of our work and how important it is along with the long-term work on the root cause that we are also investing in.”
Casey, who lives in Santa Cruz with her partner, two children and a large family, is committed to helping others. She volunteered for many years with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest.
“I also served as co-chair of Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District for four years. During the pandemic, my family has been a foster family for a wonderful little boy who we remain close to,” she explained.
Casey appreciates that her work helps the community.
“When we hire new employees, we give them something like a food security boot camp: a list of articles, podcasts, etc. that break down common misconceptions about who in our country is food insecure and what it looks like food security on a daily basis, Casey said.
People are often surprised by a 2014 UCLA study that shows more than 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ adults are food insecure.
“This data gets much more serious when you look at LGBTQ+ people who are of color,” Casey said. “The numbers then go from ‘1 in 4 for LGBT white adults, to 1 in 3 for LGBT African American adults, 1 in 2 for LGBT Native Americans, and more than 3 out of 4 for Native Hawaiians.” These data do not coincide with people’s ideas about the LGBTQ+ community. Public perception is often associated with wealth: people think of popular TV or movie characters wearing designer clothes or living in posh penthouses. The reality is that the LGBTQ+ community is one of the most food insecure demographics in our country.”
Casey thanks Second Harvest Food Bank for bringing attention to the fact that “…marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community, are more vulnerable to food insecurity in large part because of the long-term economic consequences of historical and ongoing discrimination.” .
This call is in line with one of Second Harvest Food Bank’s five core values of fairness.
“We define fairness as [recognizing that] “The root causes of hunger are systemic injustices—racism, class, sexism, and more—that create and perpetuate the conditions that sustain food insecurity and poverty.” We work to ensure everyone has access to the resources they need to succeed, no matter the circumstances, and encourage respect for our shared human dignity,” Casey explained. “Second Harvest serves the entire community: anyone can get food at SHFB. And it’s worth celebrating – in Pride Month or any other month.”
Stephanie Wydell joined Second Harvest Food Bank last December as the Paharo Valley Unified School District’s Food Co-op Program Coordinator. She runs the Food Co-op program and oversees the operation of the business. The partners of the center are the Second Harvest Food Bank plus the Community Action Council, Salud Para la Gente and others. There is a marketplace that offers free groceries and lifestyle items to PVUSD parents and students, as well as CalFresh enrollment assistance, nutrition education, additional food resources, and a mass food giveaway on the first Saturday of each month.
“This space has been a huge relief to parents and families, especially with the rising cost of food and living in general,” Wydell said. “Serving in this role fills me with joy; knowing that we can give our neighbors and community a sense of comfort is inexpressibly rewarding.”
Wydell’s identification as a member of the LGBTQ+ community helps inform her work. As she acknowledges the concerns of many LGBTQ+ people about using social services, she works to “…create a welcoming and safe environment on behalf of SHFB” in all aspects of her life.
“Unfortunately, discrimination and homophobia still thrive among employees and beneficiaries of social services; many transgender bodies do not feel safe in homeless shelters, public health services, etc. It can be difficult for the LGBTQ+ community to enter these spaces without fear of macro-aggression. SHFB is committed to promoting safety and inclusion in all the work we do. We support our LGTBQI+ community all year round.”
Working with student volunteers in a co-op is something Wydell really enjoys.
“Several students identify themselves as LGTBQI+. This experience gives them space to exist and helps them feel stronger as they support their own community by helping fight food insecurity in Santa Cruz County,” Wydell said.
Born and raised in Watsonville and Santa Cruz, Wydell was the second generation of working class Mexican migrants.
“Having grown up in this field and having firsthand experience of being genderqueer of color living in poverty and accessing various social services has directly played a role in how I deal with life, work and personal relationships,” Wydell said.
She is an active social activist.
“I do a lot of abolishment work in LGBTQI+ spaces that strengthens and supports the protection of LGBTQI+ prisoners and raises awareness of the types of violence, transphobia and assault that prisoners face in detention,” she said. “I run educational workshops, run a pen pal and snail mail program, and fundraise for stores through live performances, drag shows, art markets, and music events in and around Watsonville.”
Wydell is excited about the co-op’s plans for the future. “We are expanding our team of volunteers and look forward to training PVUSD students and parents to manage the entire cooperative and help with food distribution here and at other food distribution sites,” she said.
In addition, the PVUSD Center for Family Interaction and Wellness has many student-focused events and resource fairs planned.
For more information, visit thefoodbank.org and facebook.com/pvusdwellnesscenter.