1 in 4 at Risk for Hunger in Silicon Valley

By Ellen Coppins
Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, December 12, 2017

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties has released results of its Food Insecurity Study for Silicon Valley revealing that hunger is far more pervasive in Silicon Valley than previous studies have shown – 1 in 4 people in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties is at risk for hunger. This is an alarming level of need, indicating that food insecurity is a widespread issue impacting approximately 720,000 people. Currently, Second Harvest provides food to an average of over 257,000 people every month, leaving a gap of over 450,000 residents who are struggling to put food on the table.

Underneath the veneer of prosperity in Silicon Valley there are many children, families and seniors who aren’t getting enough to eat. These results are particularly surprising when considering that unemployment is at an all-time low. Unfortunately, economic growth in Silicon Valley is creating immense wealth for a minority, while driving the cost of living up for everyone. As economic growth drives costs, like rent, higher, many residents are more at risk for hunger including a significant population of children in our community. It’s the Silicon Valley hunger paradox, and for the first time Second Harvest was able to measure its magnitude.

The majority of those the study found to be at risk for hunger do not earn enough money to afford the high cost of living in Silicon Valley – 95 percent report earning less than $45,000 annually. According to recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which sets income limits that determine eligibility for assisted housing programs, a family of four in Santa Clara County earning $84,750 or less is considered low-income. In San Mateo County, that number is $105,350. Furthermore, the study found that of the almost 720,000 people at risk for hunger in Silicon Valley, nearly a quarter are families with children.

Faced with such high housing and living costs, any issue affecting income can easily lead to a situation where many Silicon Valley residents are suddenly food insecure. Of those who identified as food insecure:

* 28 percent said their rent had increased in the past year
* 12 percent faced eviction or foreclosure
* 25 percent lost their job in the past year
* 11 percent had their hours cut
* 17 percent encountered unexpected healthcare costs



The Silicon Valley paradox: one in four people are at risk of hunger

By Charlotte Simmonds
The Guardian, December 12, 2017

In a region famed for its foodie culture, where the well-heeled can dine on gold-flecked steaks, $500 tasting menus and $29 loaves of bread, hunger is alarmingly widespread, according to a new study shared exclusively with the Guardian.

Matt Sciamanna is the sort of person you would assume is fine. He’s young, clever, and a recent graduate from San Jose State University. Yet here on campus, he says, food insecurity is a daily problem. Students, and even part-time professors, have been known to sleep in their cars or couch surf to save money. Sciamanna, who works on the Student Hunger Committee, says a survey of more than 4,000 students found about half have skipped meals due to the cost.

His investment in the issue is informed by his own experience. With his parents unable to finance all his living costs, Sciamanna worked in a restaurant while studying full time. But at 20 he was hit with a life-changing diagnosis: multiple sclerosis, a disease that left his grandmother bedridden. Unable to keep up with the pressures of restaurant work, he took a job on campus that paid just $400 a month.

“My weekly food budget, after other expenses, was $25-$30,” he says. Trips to the grocery store became a game of numbers: a bag of apples and bananas cost less than $5 and would last a week. A bag of frozen vegetables, another $5. “Sometimes I would see a ripe peach, and I would want it, but then I’d think, damn, they’re $1.50 each. It’s not like I’m asking for a car. I’m just talking about a peach. That feeling leaves a scar.”

While Sciamanna says his food situation has improved, another fear looms: healthcare costs. His father, a garbage man in San Francisco, has already postponed retirement so that his son can stay on the family’s insurance. Without it, Sciamanna says he could face out-of-pocket costs of thousands of dollars a month for his medication. In that scenario, obtaining food would become even more difficult.

This article contains the faces of many other individuals who are vulnerable:


Although our attention has been directed to ensuring health care for all in the United States, related social problems are quite prevalent as well. In a way, Silicon Valley represents an amplified microcosm of the problems in our nation.

Because of the phenomenal successes of the high tech companies, wealth is well represented. Yet with those successes the sharp divide has left far too many with housing insecurity, health insecurity, and, remarkably, food insecurity. One-fourth of the residents are at risk of hunger.

Clearly, those of us fighting for health care justice need to work in coalitions with others who share the common goal of social justice for all.

Today many are celebrating the defeat of a candidate for a Senate seat from Alabama who seemed to reject egalitarian views of social justice. Some are suggesting that we have turned the corner. But keep in mind that almost half of the voters selected him anyway. The problems run very deep. We have a lot of work to do. Our odds of achieving social justice for all are much better if we all work together.

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