When disaster struck in the form of COVID lockdowns and an unfolding economic crisis, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County was ready.
In response to the deadly double blow of the Thomas Fire and debris flow, the Foodbank developed a comprehensive “Emergency Feeding Plan,” which mapped out how to respond to a wide range of disasters. It hinges on coordinating emergency feeding plans across the county and alongside at least 300 partner agencies.
“The need immediately jumped by 250% after COVID,” says Marketing and Communications Manager Judith Smith-Meyer. “Relationships are a cornerstone of the Emergency Plan. When we needed to act, we were ready and we did it.”
A sad truth about the economic crisis wrought by the pandemic is the profile of those coming to the Foodbank. In South Santa Barbara County, an area so reliant on tourism, service workers have found themselves scrambling to make ends meet. Carpinteria saw needs rise some 300%, according to Smith-Meyer.
“Precipitous job losses have left thousands of households facing food insecurity for the first time, and many struggle even more than usual to make ends meet,” says Foodbank CEO Erik Talkin. “We’ve seen countless new visitors hesitate to receive food, saying, ‘I don’t want to take food from someone who needs it more.’”
When a Foodbank client named Kathy’s new full-time job fell through in April, 2020, she didn’t know what to do. She had to feed her children, and came to rely on a no-contact drive through run by the Foodbank. “At least I don’t have to worry about my kids having enough healthy food to eat until we get the job thing sorted out,” Kathy says. By press time she was still unemployed.
As federal stimulus programs fade, and those on the margins are crushed by an ailing economy, the Foodbank will be there.
“The most important thing the Foodbank wants our community to know is that we are ready, and we are here for everyone,” Talkin says.