The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has met and exceeded the usual need for food assistance countywide since the Covid-19 crisis began in early March 2020, plunging residents of Santa Barbara County into unprecedented need.
In Carpinteria, that food need, from March 9, 2020 to March 8, 2021, weighed in at 514,200 pounds of food distributed, including 311,100 pounds of fresh produce. In that same time frame the year before, the Foodbank distributed just under 230,000 pounds of food, including 106,200 pounds of fresh produce.
Countywide, those year-over-year numbers are even more striking. Nearly 20 million pounds of food were distributed between March 9, 2020 and March 8, 2021, including 8,314,000 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits. The year before, the total pounds of food distributed was 9,709,000 with 4,087,000 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the Foodbank team and organizations across Santa Barbara County for working together to implement our Disaster Feeding Plan so swiftly and gracefully when the Covid crisis struck our area,” said Foodbank CEO Erik Talkin.
“We put our heads together, using lessons learned from the Thomas disasters, and mounted a creative, strategic response based on strong relationships and providing food at or near where people live. Our Covid response has endured and evolved over the course of a highly volatile year, proving how scalable and adaptable the Plan is,” Talkin continued.
Within weeks of the first infections, shut downs and layoffs last spring, the Foodbank established the Safe Food Access for Everyone (SAFE) Food Net, working with county- and city-government disaster response agencies, nonprofit organizations and the education, healthcare and business sectors. The Foodbank established 50+ certified SAFE Food Net food distribution locations in neighborhoods throughout the county so residents could find food safely near their homes. More than 20 of the locations offered no-contact drive-through service for enhanced safety.
A home delivery program was launched that provided the 1,500 low-income seniors served by the Brown Bag program with healthy groceries and fresh produce food at their doors. The Foodbank also enrolled more than 3,000 additional seniors in the Brown Bag program, providing triple the usual low-income seniors in the county with home deliveries. Households experiencing severe medical circumstances were provided with home deliveries by request. In total there were 60,000 home deliveries since March 9, 2020.
As lockdowns and mandatory stay-at-home orders led to precipitous job and income losses and economic collapse, the need for food assistance doubled countywide. In order to meet the need, the Foodbank procured additional physical capacity by acquiring additional warehouses in Santa Maria and Goleta to hold inventory and provide space for safely distanced volunteer efforts. Large, refrigerated trailers were added at each of the Foodbank regular warehouses to expand cold storage. New trucks were purchased to transport food between north and south county, deliver food to more food distribution sites and to expand cold food storage.
The Foodbank also enlisted invaluable additional human resources increasing its total paid staff by 15%, recruiting thousands of new community volunteers and interns; utilizing the California National Guard, AmeriCorps VISTA, Cesar Chavez Environmental Corps, Workforce Development Board and United Way’s dislocated workers program, Team Rubicon and the Red Cross.
The Foodbank team organized almost 15,000 volunteer shifts representing more than 27,000 volunteer hours.
At the peak of the crisis, when businesses closed suddenly, the Foodbank partnered with Santa Barbara restaurants The Lark and Loquita for the Chef’s Kitchen program, through which they provided more than 10,000 nutrient-dense, gourmet meals to seniors and households in need throughout the county. The program helped valued local businesses keep their staff employed.
Families with children in school represented a segment of the community facing a unique need, as parents lost jobs and children could not attend school. In collaboration with districts countywide, the Foodbank provided boxes of healthy groceries and fresh produce to kids’ families at the same times and locations where families picked up school lunches.
To serve families experiencing the highest need, the Foodbank is collaborating with schools and other community organizations to broaden the reach of their award-winning Healthy School Pantry (HSP) program. Adding to a base of six existing programs, the Foodbank has identified 10 more high-need neighborhoods countywide where new HSPs will be launched in the coming year.
At a Healthy School Pantry, families receive nutritious groceries and fresh produce, and have access to health and nutrition education, recipes and other wrap-around services and resources from additional providers.
“One of the most painful ironies of the pandemic has been that essential workers who provide healthy local produce for others of us have been least equipped to provide their own families with that same nutritious food,” said Judith Smith-Meyer, the Foodbank’s marketing communications manager.
Launched in July, the Food Access for Farmworkers outreach program provides food in locations where high concentrations of farmworkers live. “The reason this works better than providing food at work sites is that farmworkers often carpool to work or are transported there in vans,” Smith-Meyer said. “Shared vehicles would not have enough space to hold the food they receive. Also, many don’t have personal transportation, so they and their children can walk to food distribution sites and carry the food home easily.”
The Foodbank’s Food Access for Farmworkers program has served more than 4,800 unduplicated individuals, providing over 200,000 pounds of food at five sites in North County. The Foodbank aims to serve 500 families per month and expand locations for this program to other areas of the county.
In collaboration with CenCal Health, the Foodbank also launched a Food Prescription (Food Rx) program to deliver boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to families with children with obesity. The program is currently serving 60 families, with a goal to reach 70 families this year.
In a time when health is a central concern, the Foodbank has pivoted to make nutrition education safely available to as many community members as possible.
Food as Medicine, a series of free public presentations on eating for optimal health, moved from live events and periodic podcasts to interactive webinars covering topics including the power of cruciferous vegetables, food and mood, digestion and diet trends.
The Foodbank’s nutrition education programs for children – such as Kids Farmers Market and Food Literacy in Preschool – which normally take place during or after the school day, evolved into a hybrid model incorporating both activities and information sent home with food boxes for students’ families, along with online education modules and videos for students.
To volunteer, donate or learn more about accessing the Foodbank and its programs, visit foodbanksbc.org.