SAN JOSE -- Thanksgiving without a turkey?

Two local nonprofits are worried that some low-income families who depend on them for their holiday meals just might find out. Sacred Heart Community Services and Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have put out urgent requests for more turkeys and financial donations to make sure they have enough food for needy families.

Lack of birds could turn a happy Thanksgiving into a hungry one.

"We would like to have twice as many in the freezer than we have now, so we're a little concerned," said Poncho Guevara, Sacred Heart's executive director. "People think things are getting better with the economy. But the reality is so many still are struggling. It's hard to explain how severely the safety net has been cut the last two years."

The agency needs 4,000 turkeys for the holiday -- and 1,500 by Monday, which is the first day of distribution to families. But as of Thursday afternoon, the nonprofit only had 920 birds.

The turkey shortage is even greater at Second Harvest because it serves more people. The nonprofit has just more than half of the 12,000 turkeys needed this year to supply the 330 local food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in its network that provide holiday meals.

Last-minute turkey donations are, like cranberries, something of a holiday tradition.

"But it always makes us nervous when we're pushing up against a deadline, and we're short," said Tami Cardenas, Second Harvest's vice president of development and marketing. "We're getting the word out, and the community usually is very helpful. But right now our food bank is lower than normal."

The holiday food drives highlight an increasing problem. While the local economy, fueled by the high-tech engine of Silicon Valley, continues to improve, vulnerable families and individuals are falling farther behind.

"There just hasn't been a rebound for many people on the peninsula and in Silicon Valley," Cardenas said. "It hasn't translated into jobs, and the high cost of living continues to be a driver of hunger in our community."

An index released recently by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality found that 330,000 people in Santa Clara County -- 18.7 percent of the residents -- live in poverty.

That's in large part because of the cost of housing. Apartment rents have skyrocketed the past two years. The average rent now is $2,140 a month in Santa Clara County and $2,330 in San Mateo County, according to Novato-based RealFacts.

Meanwhile, government anti-poverty programs continue to be squeezed. The most recent example came this month with cuts to food stamps. Those reductions are affecting 51,000 households in Santa Clara County and 14,000 more in San Mateo County.

At Sacred Heart, 72,000 families were helped by the nonprofit in the past year.

"That's more than double what we served before the recession," Guevara said. "People might be doing a little better, but they're still not keeping up with the rent increases. That continues to clobber people. So the people who come to a food bank typically are working, but they still don't have enough food to eat."

Second Harvest provides food to more than 250,000 people a month -- distributing nearly 52 million pounds of food last year. The agency hopes its Holiday Food and Fund Drive will raise $13.2 million, which is half its annual revenue, as well as two million pounds of food.

"Our neighbors are still struggling to get back on their feet," Cardenas said.

Follow Mark Emmons at Twitter.com/markedwinemmons.

how to donate
Sacred Heart Community Service
The nonprofit is accepting turkeys and financial donations between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at its offices at 1381 S. First St. in San Jose. Sacred Heart needs frozen turkeys in the range of 10 to 12 pounds. Donations also can be made online at www.sacredheartcs.org.
For more information, call 408-278-2170.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties
Frozen turkeys can be dropped off at Second Harvest's facilities at 750 Curtner Ave. in San Jose and 1051 Bing St. in San Carlos. The Curtner dock is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Bing Center dock is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. Donators are asked not to put turkeys in the regular collection barrels because they will spoil.
For more information or to make a financial donation, visit www.shfb.org or call 866-234-3663.