It is an understatement to say that the global pandmic that began in 2020 affected everyone in drastic ways. This year's poll included a few categories related to COVID-19 and how Santa Cruz County's people and businesses adapted. Here are the winners.

Pajaro Valley Loaves & Fishes

“We are incredibly honored to receive this high praise from our community,” says Kathryn O’Brien, Community Outreach Coordinator for Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes. “During this challenging year which saw multiple crises, we saw a critical rise in basic human needs. We at Loaves and Fishes strove to deliver as much healthy food as we could.”

From the initial shutdown on March 17 to the end of 2020, they saw a 50 percent increase in the number of clients coming to their pantry. “When stay-at-home orders began, one of the first concerns which crossed everyone’s minds was the need to stock up on food. Grocery providers were seeing an immense surge in numbers; Loaves and Fishes was no exception. We were able to remain open as an essential service, and for a few very busy weeks, we had lines down the street. Our team hustled to meet this demand.”

They have continued seeing increased numbers in the pantry and lunch programs. “While we have pivoted to make our operations meet the CDC social distancing guidelines, for example by switching our daily lunch program to a to-go operation and moving our pantry outside, our mission has remained constant: to help alleviate the hunger among Pajaro Valley’s poor families, farm workers, and elderly, disabled and homeless individuals, as well as many who may be seeking assistance for the first time as a result of the public health crisis and recent economic downturn,” says Kathryn.

Loaves and Fishes currently serves 100-130 lunches daily. “Jonathan, one of our regular lunch guests, told Maria Gonzalez, our Kitchen Manager of 17 years, how invaluable our services have been. Living with disabilities and without kitchen access, it has been critical to his health that he’s been able to receive meals and other support from our staff. Another, Peter, told Maria how grateful he is, because although he’s often busy with work and can’t come right at noon when we start giving it out, he is always sure to come pick up his meal. He says it’s the only place that he can get a healthy lunch.”

They see the most clients during November and December holiday distributions, when they serve specially prepared grocery bags for families to make festive meals at home. This year they saw about 450 and 550 families respectively. One moment in particular stood out for Kathryn. “One of our guests, Maggie, had called to sign up her household for our distribution. Unfortunately, our list was already overflowing with families. We had to put her on a waitlist. Due to last-minute cancellations, a couple of days before Thanksgiving we were able to call and tell her she could come pick up a package after all, including a whole turkey. She was over the moon to hear the news. As they loaded groceries into their car, I overheard her telling her partner ‘We get to have turkey!’ During a very challenging time, it was such a heartwarming moment.”

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel Readers' Choice 2020