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Man who faced with food scarcity as SJSU student keeps people fed at Fremont hospital

Once hungry SJSU student works to keep people fed at Fremont hospital
Once hungry SJSU student works to keep people fed at Fremont hospital 03:40

A Bay Area resident who sometimes struggled to get meals while in college has found success in a career where his main job is to make sure people are fed.

Deep within Washington Hospital in Fremont, Matthew Sciamanna heads into his office. He gears up for a trip through what effectively is the central nervous system of the hospital's food and nutrition services operation.

"We serve anywhere from 400 to 600 trays per day," he said.

Those meals go to patients, staff, guests, and any others who are at the hospital and need to eat.

Working as director of the hospital's food and nutrition services operation, he takes a lot of pride in being able to feed others. One big reason? There was a point in his life where he was in need of a helping hand.

"To seek help is not shameful," he said.

While in college at San Jose State, Sciamanna experienced food insecurity first-hand.

"No, it was not easy," he said. "What ends up happening is, you have to decide: 'Well, I have this part-time job and I need gas to go to my part-time job; do I go to the grocery store and buy $40 worth of groceries, or do I pay $40 and put gas in my car?'"

Sciamanna linked up with Second Harvest of Silicon Valley to keep food on the table. As he got a helping hand, he worked to make sure more people wouldn't have to experience what he was going through.

"To be having a problem as foundational as lack of access to food really is something that should ignite us all to want to work together to address and solve that problem," Sciamanna said.

The need is growing in the Bay Area, says Tracy Weatherby, VP of Strategy & Advocacy at Second Harvest of Silicon Valley.

"People are often really shocked at the level of food insecurity here in Silicon Valley. We think of it as a really wealthy place, but there is an extremely high cost of living," she said. "We here at Second Harvest of Silicon Valley are serving a half a million people every month – that's 1 in 6 people in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties."

She says that's double the amount of people they served pre-pandemic, and more than half of their customers are seniors and children.

"The level of food insecurity is just incredible," she said.

There isn't a face to hunger, either, says Weatherby.

"Throughout the state of California, 44% of college students suffer from food insecurity. People are shocked to hear that," she said. "One of the real challenges around that is that college students are also not as eligible for benefits as everyone else."

While the food banks are often incredibly busy during the holiday season, Weatherby says helping those with food insecurity is a year-round mission, and those living through it are dealing with it every day.

"People most often think about food insecurity around the holidays. But, this is a year-round problem – people who are having trouble making ends meet, trying to get healthy food for their families – that's a 365 day a year kind of job. The food bank is always here," she said. "We will work hard to make sure that we can meet folks' needs."

"In the Bay Area, it's a huge problem that we face," Sciamanna said. "The only way we're going to be able to overcome that is if we come together as a community."

At the hospital, Sciamanna is tasked with making sure nobody is hungry. But he takes it a step further – his team partners with Daily Bowl – to ensure they're not wasting food. Their excess food doesn't go to waste, it goes out to folks in the community who need it.

"We really believe strongly in sustainability and being a connection point for health for our local community members," he said.

Once fueled by hunger, now fueled by gratitude, and a desire to make a difference.

"Very special. I'll continue to hold that throughout the rest of my career," Sciamanna said.

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