As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds and food insecurity becomes a growing and widespread problem, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is working hard to provide enough healthy food to everyone who needs it through their new countywide initiative, Safe Access to Food for Everyone (SAFE) Food Net.
All Foodbank distributions and volunteer services fall into the sanctioned category of “essential services” and community members may participate with the full support of the state of California, the Santa Barbara County Emergency Operations Center, and the county’s Public Health and Sheriff’s departments.
Hand washing, sanitizer, disposable gloves and social distancing are employed in all Foodbank interactions. “We established the SAFE Food Net to emphasize to the community that all Foodbank operations are conducted under impeccable safety protocols, with strict adherence to CDC and county Public Health recommendations,” said Erik Talkin, Foodbank’s CEO. “The health, and most immediately, the safety of community members receiving food, our volunteers and partners, our drivers and our staff, is our utmost priority. The community can be confident in the safety and accessibility of all Foodbank operations.”
Drive-through food pick-up
Of the 50 SAFE Food Net distributions, nearly 20 are brand new emergency drive-through food distribution points, making receiving healthy food fast, easy, discreet and safe. The process has only two steps. At the first stop, visiting community members answer three brief questions: name, number in household and whether this is the first time they’re receiving food this month. At the second stop, volunteers load food bags into the back of the vehicle and recipients drive away with healthy groceries and fresh produce without getting out of their car or making contact with volunteers.
Home delivery for seniors
Each year the Foodbank serves 20,000 low-income seniors across the county. All of those enrolled in the Foodbank’s Brown Bag programs will receive food delivered to their homes.
Due to senior quarantine recommendations, all seniors—60 and over, or 55 and over with a disability who self-certify, no doctor’s note required—may call the Foodbank to sign up to receive SAFE Food Net healthy groceries and fresh produce at home: (805) 967-5741.
In addition to its corps of individual volunteer drivers, the Foodbank is partnering with the following local organizations to implement home deliveries: Community Partners in Caring in Santa Maria, Family Services Agency in Lompoc and Easy Lift in Santa Barbara and other areas. Individual volunteer drivers can sign up for home delivery routes; bags are left on doorsteps.
Route4Me has provided the platform for the Foodbank to establish routes for the rapidly growing home delivery initiative being undertaken.
Others in the community who may need home delivery for any reason should reach out to the Santa Barbara Public Health Department at publichealthsbc.org or by calling 211. For more information, visit 211santabarbaracounty.org.
Increased need for food
A visible and staggering increase in the need for food is evolving throughout the county.
“The increase in demand was unbelievable last week. We normally host a monthly mobile food pantry that serves 125 families at Santa Rita apartments,” said Jamie Diggs, Foodbank partner services manager. “Our new emergency food distribution next door to Lompoc Boys & Girls Club was due to begin at 1 p.m. on Friday. At 10 a.m., 200 families were already lined up waiting for food.”
“I was giving an interview for KTAS Telemundo in Santa Maria today where we normally serve 75 families and they couldn’t even get any action shots of the distribution because it ended in 15 minutes,” said Genesis Gutierrez, Foodbank community programs supervisor. “Starting Wednesday, we’ll be serving 200 families three times a week there, reaching 600 families in one week.”
Late last week, the Disaster Feeding Plan Task Force convened for the first time. Member organizations reported the response they’ve seen to food distribution. Carpinteria Children’s Project usually provides food at a distribution to 120 families, but last Wednesday, they served 280 families. Salvation Army reports seeing more families in one day at its Hollister Avenue location than they usually see in a month.
Community Action Commission, serving lunch at 13 sites, reported that while they normally serve 150 people a day, they saw 260 people per day last week. Santa Barbara Unified School District served 3,600 lunches in its first four days of operation since schools closed.
Other participants in the Feeding Plan Task Force activation include city of Carpinteria, county of Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management/Emergency Operations Center and Public Health Department, Red Cross, Southern Baptist Church, city of Santa Maria Fire Department and Community Long-Term Recovery Group.
The Foodbank has signed lease agreements for additional warehouse space in both Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, doubling storage space and expanding volunteer service space to ensure greater numbers of volunteers can maintain social distancing at their shifts to enable the Foodbank to keep up with demand for pre-packed bags of food.
Last week, to meet growing need, the Foodbank purchased $100,000 in food that is difficult to source by donation. Nonperishable staples cost $70,000. Additional produce needed cost $22,000; $7,000 was spent on eggs; and $2,000 went to purchasing tortillas/bread.
USDA and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) emergency food is on its way and the new facilities allow for the Foodbank to process and store more community donations as well.
Individuals may drop off home-grown produce or non-perishable foods at either of the Foodbank’s regular warehouses. Institutions and businesses with food to donate should call (805) 967-5741 to arrange for drop-off or pickup.
The National Guard has been deployed for an initial two weeks to aid in food distribution in Santa Barbara County. They are currently working with the Foodbank: helping at warehouses, running deliveries, helping at food distributions, among other essential needs. “Already a terrific help and source of support and humanpower for our greatly expanded demands, warehouse spaces, and distribution sites,” said Judith Smith-Meyer, Foodbank’s marketing communications manager.
The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County urgently needs volunteers who are bilingual in Spanish and English to answer phone calls from community members who need help with food due to COVID-19, including seniors who need home delivery. To sign up or learn more, call (805) 967-5741 x209 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food distribution sites
Noon, Monday through Friday
Veteran’s Hall, 941 Walnut Avenue
Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County will provide seniors with bag lunches Monday through Friday at the Veteran’s Hall, 941 Walnut Ave. To enroll in the program, or for more information, call (805) 964-8857.
Carpinteria Emergency Food Distribution
4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays
Carpinteria High School, 4810 Foothill Road
Anyone in need is welcome, bags of food will be brought out to cars. Organized by Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Carpinteria Children’s Project, Carpinteria Unified School District, United Boys & Girls Clubs and Rotary Club.
Senior Home Food Delivery
Foodbank of Santa Barbara County offers home food delivery to seniors. To sign up, call (805) 967-5741.
Noon to 1 p.m. School days
Canalino/Canalino Family School and Aliso Elementary
Sack lunches will be provided to all CUSD students.