Santa Cruz – Erica Padilla-Chavez, a Watsonville local and community leader, has a personal connection to the Second Harvest Food Bank.
“It simply came to our notice then. I know this organization has had a direct impact on the lives of young people and families across the county, “said Padilla-Chavez.
Padilla-Chavez will lead the company, which began in July after serving as CEO of Pazaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance, a nonprofit service for South Santa Cruz County youth for more than seven years. He will replace longtime Second Harvest CEO Willie Elliott-McCree, who is retiring from the company.
Nonprofit was the first food bank in California when it was founded in 1974. Across the COVID-19 epidemic, Second Harvest has led Santa Cruz County residents to respond to food insecurity by getting fruits, vegetables, frozen foods and pantry items. It serves about 20,000 to 25,000 residents per week.
Padilla-Chavez's goal is to build relationships with healthcare providers and reach out to nonprofits across the county to address overall food insecurity. He said food insecurity is a symptom of other health and socio-economic problems that need to be addressed collectively.
“We have seen through the epidemic how important it is for us to work together to advance health and well-being,” said Padilla-Chavez. “It's about being strategic and establishing partnerships with agencies that can further the well-being of the people that Second Harvest provides care and support for.”
The Pazaro Valley leader was recently voted Woman of the Year by Assembly District 30 Assembly Member Robert Rivas (D-Salinas) in March.
In the eyes of Padilla-Chavez, Pazaro Valley Prevention and Student Support has expanded from a staff of 20, serving about 2,500 children in the Pazaro Valley, to more than 65 staff, serving about 7,000 residents across the region. Asked about his legacy in the PVPSA, Padilla-Chavez mentioned various nonprofits and regional partnerships over the years across the agency.
In the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, Padilla-Chavez led the creation of the South County Covid Support and Treez Group, which provides significant assistance to low-income families and residents most at risk for the virus, such as farmers and indigenous communities. In the early days of the epidemic, the group also advocated a moratorium on local evictions in Watsonville, which City Council passed a few months before Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a statewide ban on evictions.
Padilla-Chavez says although he looks forward to making an impact at the county-wide level with Second Harvest, his departure from the PVPSA is bitter.
“I look forward to working with PVPSA, but from a different seat,” said Padilla-Chavez. “It's not a goodbye – I don't want to say goodbye – it'll only be seen later.”