SH/OP turns donated organic produce into a community mission
It’s a warm Saturday afternoon and 30 or so people are standing under the shade of a giant tree in front of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Santa Cruz. As they exchange greetings, the vibe is friendly and familiar, and laughter floats through the air. Nearby, tables packed with boxes of lettuce, kale, squash, herbs, peaches, and more are ready to be “shopped.” Everyone will go home with bags of free, fresh, organic produce and flowers donated from local farmers.
What’s not apparent to onlookers is that those shopping have cancer, HIV/AIDS, or other autoimmune disorders. The event is a project called Supporting Health with Organic Produce (SH/OP), which takes leftover food from the local farmers markets and distributes it, on a weekly basis, to community members focused on eating well while working on healing.
The brainchild of Melinda White, SH/OP has six founding members who all have different philosophies, ideas and goals. The thing they agree on is that there is enough to go around—that SH/OP will be run from a platform of abundance rather than scarcity.
“We don’t limit the amount of food our clients take,” says White. “We tell them to see how many people are needing food and how much of any particular thing we have. We then leave it up to them to self-regulate. It works very, very well.”
White explains that for SH/OP, the abundance starts with the idea that there is more to this than just food. “The act of sharing and giving,” she says, creates “a culture of enough.”
Now in its second season, SH/OP is different from other local food distribution projects because it focuses on those with specific health challenges. Clients are referred from organizations including Palo Alto Medical Foundation oncology, the Katz Cancer Resource Center at Dominican Hospital, WomenCARE, and Santa Cruz AIDS Project. Some weeks, SH/OP volunteers serve as many as 60 clients. Leftovers from the distribution are donated to Grey Bears.
SH/OP’s supportive environment extends beyond the produce. While there, I heard volunteers ask if anyone needed a ride getting their groceries home. White extended an offer to one woman that if she’s ever not feeling up to coming out, they can arrange for someone to bring a bag of food to her.
There are profound lessons in community and abundance in play here. Throughout the distribution, SH/OP members and volunteers greet people by name and extend well wishes. Near the end, one client comes over to express her gratitude to White. In response, White puts her hands in a prayer pose over her heart and says with a smile, “Thank you for coming.”
SH/OP distributes to clients at 2 p.m. every Saturday at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Santa Cruz. They always need volunteers. More info: produceforhealth.org.