A Passionate Venture


How Harvesters was Launched

It all began with Jill Johnson-Tucker, who as a member of the board of directors of Second Harvest Food Bank was asked to find more funding to help the nonprofit feed the hungry in Orange County. She turned to her good friend, Jennifer Van Bergh, for help.

“I went on a tour of Second Harvest Food Bank to see what they were doing,” Van Bergh says, “and I was surprised by the magnitude of the plight of the hungry in our community and how it impacted the lives of so many people, whether they were families with children, seniors, or the homeless. It was such a large problem.”

“When I joined the board 27 years ago,” Tucker says, “I found that the food that Second Harvest was using to feed the hungry was “recaptured” food, or food that otherwise was being thrown away. That was a revelation to me. You could, with very little funding, reach an enormous number of people.”

Van Bergh was immediately on board with Tucker to fix the problem. They reached out to their friends, who reached out to their friends, to meet and talk about organizing a fundraising event to benefit Second Harvest. Fifty women showed up, and from those 50, Harvesters was born. The membership has remained 50 from the beginning.

The duo reserved a small hotel ballroom for their inaugural fashion show and luncheon, which expanded several times to larger venues until the event was sold out.

“Our goal was $5,000 that first year,” Tucker says, “and we netted nearly $50,000. We were off and running!”

In a few years, the event net was $100,000, with the proceeds reaching $680,000 in 2016. The Harvesters have raised more than $6.5 million in funds over its 25 years, which translates to providing enough food for 19.5 million meals–an impressive achievement!

Second Harvest Food Bank CEO Nicole Suydam commends the Harvesters’ efforts.

“We have never worked with a group that is more organized, dedicated and productive in their devotion to our mission to end hunger. They are not just involved with the annual fundraiser, they have a year-round commitment to work for us in hands-on volunteer roles at the food bank and the farm and they engage their children in our mission. Many also serve or have served on the SHFB board of directors.”

Harvesters Support for Second Harvest Food Bank

Some of the unique programs the Harvesters have created and developed include the Special Fund, established in 2004, which has raised crucial funding for urgent needs, such as refrigerated trucks, a tractor for gleaning, a battery-powered forklift for use in the distribution center, and handheld computers for the drivers, allowing for up-to-the-minute information.

The Special Fund also provides funding for the Kids Cafe Program, which provides healthy and delicious after-school meals to children at 42 locations, providing 352,971 meals in 2016 and serving up to 1,700 children in need daily. Also funded is the Permanent School Pantry at Lincoln Elementary School in Anaheim, which reached 1,500 children in need last year and provided the equivalent of 213,036 meals to the surrounding community. The second location at El Sol Science and Arts Academy opened in April, 2017, with four more scheduled openings of Permanent School Pantries by 2021.

The Harvesters underwriting dollars also fund the Mobile Pantry with its refrigerated trucks, which makes 60 stops per month for up to 300 families in each location. The School Pantries provide fresh produce in a “farmer’s market” style setting to 26 low-income schools, serving 796,647 meals in 2016.

The Senior Grocery Program has 33 Senior Grocery Partners at senior centers, churches, nonprofits, and low-income senior apartments and provided 1,057,643 meals to 3,217 seniors in need in 2016.

The Youth Initiative Programs teaches youth valuable hands-on experiences on the hunger problem our community faces, and one young lady has made quite an impact. Isabel Janavs, daughter of Harvester Michelle Janavs, wrote a book when she was nine years old called Izzy and the Candy Palace. All the proceeds from the book continue to be donated to SHFB, which to date are $275,000. Because of the book’s success, “Izzy’s Corner” is located inside the Food Bank’s warehouse, where children learn about hunger in their community and get hands-on volunteering experience.

The Harvesters support reaches the Food Bank’s vast network of community partners, including church and school pantries, homeless shelters, senior centers, soup kitchens and homes for abused women and children. Those served include the working poor, children, seniors on fixed incomes, single parents, veterans, the disabled, homeless and individuals experiencing medical emergencies or recent job layoffs.

Despite the progress, 315,000 residents are at risk of going hungry every month, and the Harvesters and Suydam and Second Harvest Food Bank are dedicated to redoubling efforts to reach a Bold Goal of creating a world in which there is no hunger. Ever.

Harvesters’ 25th annual Fashion Show & Luncheon

This year’s Fashion Show & Luncheon, “Harvesters – Celebrating 25 Years of Feeding OC,” is scheduled for Thursday, October 5 and is sold-out with 450 guests attending. South Coast Plaza is once again the fashion show sponsor and presenter, having been involved for 24 of the event’s 25 years. The leading international shopping destination, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is providing the venue, The Pavillion at South Coast Plaza, and is presenting its luxury-branded fashion show featuring Fendi, Lanvin, Marni, Max Mara, Moncler, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Roberto Cavalli, Salvatore Ferragamo, The Webster, Valentino and Versace. The retail center’s support extends to luxury retailer items in the event’s silent auction, its past sponsorship of underwriting parties and its year-round retailer-hosted in-store events benefiting the Harvesters.

South Coast Plaza’s support influences other event sponsors, including Versace’s Underwriting Party, Christian Louboutin’s underwriter favors and Saks Fifth Avenue’s luncheon favors. The Champagne reception is sponsored by City National Bank and Veuve Cliquot. All in all, the Harvesters continue to host a drop-dead gorgeous event, which is always a highlight of the social season.

Kathryn Cenci, who has overseen the fashion show presentation for 16 years as South Coast Plaza’s Director of Community Relations, says of the center’s involvement:

“South Coast Plaza has been more than happy to provide a platform to raise monies to feed those in need in Orange County. It is remarkable what the Harvesters have accomplished. Founders Jennifer Van Bergh and Jill Johnson-Tucker deserve the highest praise for seeing a need and creating the Harvesters to address it.”

The Coda

And, how do the founders feel about their efforts?

“We have tremendous gratitude for all the women, past and present, who have worked so hard and generously given of their time and resources as members of the Harvesters over the years,” says Tucker. Adds Van Bergh, “We are proud of what has been accomplished and we are secure in the knowledge that the Harvester legacy will continue as long as there are hungry people in our community who need our help.”