Top Hatters, Community Food Bank of San Benito feed the hungry

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Members of the Top Hatters gathered at Grillin & Chillin Alehouse last Saturday to gather donations for their annual canned food drive.

Nancy Frusetta and the Community Food Bank of San Benito staff heard the unmistakable rumble of motorcycles from a distance. 

It was sweet music to their ears as the Top Hatters were arriving to drop off a truckload of donations they had just received from their annual food drive last Saturday. All told, the Top Hatters dropped off a whopping 3,656 pounds of canned foods, up from 1,978 pounds last year, according to Food Bank CEO Nancy Frusetta. 

“There must have been 40 of them that came, and their show of support was incredible,” she said. “They did a prayer over the food and said some really heartfelt words of what it meant to them to bring this food and how they wanted a positive impact to be felt to all the people the donations were going out to. It was a really special moment.”

The Top Hatters Hollister chapter have been doing their annual canned food drive since 1995, though a group of the members initially started the outreach six years earlier before the chapter was formed. Kiko Sanchez, the Top Hatters vice president, said it was important for the organization to keep this tradition going even amid a pandemic. 

“We do things for our local community because we care about the people who live in this county,” Sanchez said. “It was important to us to get food to the pantry.”

Was it ever. While food insecurity rates in the U.S. measured at 10.5 percent in 2019—meaning that percent of the population of U.S. households (more than 35 million Americans) were unable to meet the food needs of all their family members due to insufficient money or resources—that number has increased in 2020, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to one estimate by researchers at Northwestern University, food insecurity more than doubled as a result of the economic crisis brought on by the outbreak, hitting as many as 23 percent of households earlier this year. Locally, the numbers aren’t all that different. 

In June, Cal Fresh—the largest food program in California—provided food to 2,285 low-income households in San Benito County, the highest figure since March 2017. The Top Hatters’ food drive and subsequent drop-off to the Community Food Bank couldn’t have come at a better time. 

“It was really important as it came on the exact week of the shutdown (stay-at-home order),” Frusetta said. “It comes at a time when the community needs so much support right now. We are really stretched thin, and this type of community support is what we really need to meet the need.”

Frusetta added that the Community Food Bank in November gave out 186,344 pounds of food, a 60 percent increase over the same month last year. They’ve also added pop-up sites throughout the county to help the growing demand for food during the pandemic. She credited the Top Hatters for paying it forward and providing a positive presence in tough economic times brought on by the pandemic. 

“It wasn’t just the food or money they brought, but it was seeing their genuine support and care,” she said. “It says so much about the county of San Benito and it’s really a fabric of everyone coming together to support our most vulnerable. The other cool thing is there are some guys in the group who have experienced the other side of it. They maybe at some point had to come to the Food Bank and receive help themselves. I think they really take it personally to support the community, and it’s really special.”