Jefferson Award Winner Expanded Martha's KitchenBy Sharon Chin

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) A Silicon Valley soup kitchen is reaching out to feed thousands more hungry people each year, thanks to a South Bay woman.

Every weekday, more than 100 students at Sacred Heart Nativity Schools eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner next door at Martha’s Kitchen in San Jose.

The meals make a difference to 8th grader Pedro Santana.

“I think it’s really important when you try to focus in class,” Santana said.

Edita Cruz started the meal program for low income students when she became executive director of Martha’s Kitchen 17 years ago. Her passion: to fight hunger.

“You see hunger everywhere. And people do not realize it can happen to everybody,” Cruz said.

So the former tech startup project manager quadrupled the size of the kitchen. as a result, meal service soared from 75,000 a year to nearly half a million. Its reach extends beyond San Jose.

Board President Ray Flowers says the kitchen is cooking and delivering free meals to more than 40 nonprofits as far as East Palo Alto, Salinas, Santa Cruz, and the San Joaquin Valley.

“She gets out, talks to people, and convinces partners they should be helping more.” Flowers said. “She’s really been the driving force of Martha’s Kitchen.”

Sacred Heart Nativity Schools President Sonya Arriola calls Cruz an amazing problem solver.

“She sees possibility in a world where we can see a lot of barriers,” Arriola said.

And Cruz never forgets how she and her husband were laid off from their tech jobs in 2001. They had just returned from a European vacation when both of them got their pink slips. They discovered how easy it was for anyone to slip down the path to homelessness.

“We were so close to homelessness. It’s hard to imagine,” Cruz remembered.

That same year, she took the job as executive director of Martha’s Kitchen. Now, she finds joy feeding folks like Steve Barrientos in their time of greatest need.

“I didn’t have a place to stay. I was homeless,” Barrientos said.

No longer homeless, he now volunteers.

Cruz explained, “You help one person, and that person may end up helping many more people.”

The wife, mother, and grandmother of fifteen wants to keep expanding Martha’s Kitchen reach into East San Jose and beyond.

She says for places open to serving the public, the nonprofit can deliver to the group free of charge.

So for her leadership in fighting hunger, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Edita Cruz.

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