Tag Archives: food security

Ready, Set, Go! Taking Our Mission to New Heights

Realities that became clear in 2020 and, by all accounts, will prevail for the next few years, have informed how we plan to help our Community in 2021 and beyond. Whether they’re seniors in assisted living, hourly wage-earning families living in multi-generational households, or the newly unemployed confronted with joblessness due to Covid-related layoffs, we’re ready to take our mission to new heights.

It Would Be Unconscionable to “Un-See” What We Saw in 2020

– More than 1 in 14 seniors live in poverty locally

– The working poor, the bulk of our clients, still live on small fixed incomes that in no way cover typical monthly expenses

– When more than 30% of their income is earmarked for housing, nutritional food often becomes unaffordable for local seniors and others who are physically or economically vulnerable

– Food insecurity remains a huge problem in our Community with each passing year, as basic nutritional needs go unmet for children through seniors

– Population subgroups already strained economically are especially susceptible to the negative impact of unexpected events, like this most recent pandemic

– Many in our Community are homebound and have limited transportation options

– Social isolation, loneliness, and depression have spiked in the last 14 months

So What Do We Do NOW?

– Grow our inventory of food and other essentials so that not a single vulnerable, isolated, or senior resident in need of food is turned away — and allow them to shop twice a month.

– Don’t stop offering grocery deliveries to our isolated and most vulnerable clients still impacted by the pandemic.

– Expand and deepen the impact of our senior volunteer effort. We must find a way to get evenmore of the handiworks and custom gifts our senior program volunteers make into the hands and homes of those who need to feel they’ve not been forgotten!

We See Glimmers on the Horizon…

And look forward to the day very soon when our outreach will expand anew: allowing clients and their families safely inside our space to shop for exactly what they want and need, whether it’s in the Grocery and Clothing Store, in the Back-to-School Pop-Up, or in the Holiday Gift Shoppe; reopening our Volunteerism Programs in full and giving the Community the opportunity to be of service; supporting the newly jobless and youth through Job Smart, our employment readiness program; and welcoming the Community back into Gift Shoppe on State Street in search of donated but unique treasures, like clothing, jewelry, home furnishings and more!

2020: A Challenging (and Rewarding) Year Like No Other…

2020 was a year like no other, and it confirmed for us that nothing – not even a worldwide pandemic – could hamper Unity Shoppe’s dedication to the people of Santa Barbara, especially those who felt most vulnerable or experienced sudden job loss and needed a place to turn during this crisis. 

Led by our fearless founder, Barbara Tellefson, we quickly moved into high gear, consolidating all of our programs and services down to distributing food alone in a way that was safe and would help as many people as possible without losing site of our 100-year-old mission: to offer people choice in what they receive and to do so without compromising their dignity or self-respect. 

We quickly secured PPE, kept our essential staff and our Community’s most at-risk members healthy and safe, followed all safety guidelines, and met intense cleanliness standards. By doing so we were able to accommodate residents who could shop at Unity directly and receive free groceries they picked out themselves: farm fresh fruits and vegetables, refrigerated dairy products, poultry and beef, bread and baked goods, and canned and boxed staples too. The need for food has been so critical over this past year that we worked hard to ensure our clients, many of whom were families of 4-5 people, could shop for everything they needed every other week (up from only once per month in pre-Covid times). Hours were extended and front of the line privileges and automatic car loading assistance was offered to anyone who needed it by our essential staff, much like at any other supermarket around town. But not everyone was able to shop in person; for immuno-compromised, disabled or homebound residents from Goleta to Carpinteria, we instituted a highly sought after delivery service of groceries they pre-selected and we delivered right to their door.

For more information about Unity Shoppe, visit www.unityshoppe.org.

Feeding Our Community: The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County Adjusts to Meet Our COVID Needs

To say that the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has been busy is an understatement – the nonprofit distributed 9,708,944 pounds of food over the course of a year, including some four million-plus pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Sounds like a lot, right? 

Sure, but that’s the year preceding the COVID crisis in California.

From March 9, 2020, to March 8, 2021, the Foodbank doled out 18,421,361 pounds of food, including just shy of eight million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.

To get there, it took an operational plan to place a priority on both feeding the county, but also doing it safely for all involved.

When the pandemic began to pervade Santa Barbara County in mid-March 2020, it resulted in an increase in need for healthy sustenance due to the mandatory stay-at-home orders, business restrictions, and lockdowns. 

This is not to mention the viral infection taking hold, but the Foodbank stepped up – quickly.

Within weeks, the organization whose formal mission is to transform hunger into health by eliminating food insecurity through good nutrition and food literacy, pivoted to abide by the new protocols. 

The Foodbank created the Safe Access to Food for Everyone (SAFE) Food Net, working with government disaster response agencies and nonprofits, as well as the education, healthcare, and business sectors to establish more than 50 SAFE Food Net distribution locations. 

These sites were in neighborhoods throughout the county so residents could safely find sustenance near their own homes. More than 20 of the locations even offered complete no-contact, drive-thru service for enhanced safety.

Among other programs, Foodbank also launched a home-delivery service that provided 1,500 low-income, high-risk seniors already partaking of its Brown Bag program with boxes of healthy groceries and fresh produce food delivered to their doors. The nonprofit also tripled the program, enrolling more than 3,000 additional seniors in home delivery and adding other households that were experiencing severe medical circumstances.

How was the nonprofit able to respond so rapidly with a massive upscaling to meet the unprecedented demand? The organization isn’t new to disaster, especially two years removed from the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow.

“I think we’d become a little bit complacent before the fire and debris flows,” Foodbank CEO Erik Talkin explained. “They enabled us to really rethink our approach and increase our ability to respond to a disaster over a long period of time and avoid staff burnout.” 

Of course, the pandemic required a completely different kind of pivoting, he said. 

“Obviously foodbanks have been all about trying to get people to come to one place and get large amounts of food at one time. That wasn’t going to work with COVID, where that would be the last thing you would want to do,” Talkin said. “So we had to really upend our model and learn to do new things to build that capacity and scale up.” 

That included finding ways of storing and moving much more food than before, which the Foodbank solved temporarily by borrowing two additional warehouses to augment its current facilities. 

But that didn’t solve how to find people who weren’t familiar with how the program worked. 

“That was a real challenge, having to identify a system where people could indicate they needed food delivered so we could plan routes and get volunteers to drive those routes and make sure that they received food in a safe fashion,” Talkin said.

A First-Time Experience

Since COVID hit Santa Barbara County, the Foodbank has supplied 18,421,361 pounds of food

The pandemic produced food insecurity among people who work in the tourism-related services, or even restaurants and other food industries.

These people never imagined they would need this kind of help. 

“With the pandemic, so many people need help. It’s affected a wide variety of people. Who are we to say who is the type of person we want to serve? There’s so many people of all sorts who need help,” explained Talkin, who has published Lulu and the Hunger Monster, a children’s picture book that aims to enable kids to feel fine if they or their family needs help with food.

Now that many county residents have already been fully vaccinated, and with increased supply of the three approved vaccines, can we expect the Foodbank to return to its pre-pandemic programs?

Not so fast, said Talkin. 

“Although the pandemic is winding down, the need for our services is not realistically going to be dramatically reduced for another 18-24 months,” he said. “People have built up a lot of debt. People are still unemployed or underemployed. And the federal subsidies are coming to an end. All the studies that we’re doing and the national studies from the Congressional Budget Office related to unemployment show there will be a need for emergency food at much larger levels right through most of 2022.”

So, no, the Foodbank won’t be scaling back services in the near term. 

And it will be keeping some of the lessons that it has learned, including how it operates educational programs, with some staying online even after it is safe to be in-person.

All this increase in demand and services, of course, means a continued need for financial support – even though the Foodbank continues to turn $1 donations into eight meals.

That’s courtesy of volume purchasing and strong partnerships with farmers and other food partners. 

But it does have one need – a new facility in Santa Barbara.

Currently, the Foodbank is working out of a small, converted fire station with no loading dock, causing it to lean heavily on its North County warehouse.

That means it needs to truck all the food down, which Talkin says doesn’t “make sense environmentally.”

“Or worse yet, if there is an earthquake or other disaster and the roads are cut off. So finding land or a location to build a new South County warehouse is a big focus for us at the moment,” Talkin said.

While a donation leading to solving that problem would of course be more than welcome, Talkin noted that everything helps.  

“Our greatest need is for the community to engage with us in whatever way they feel comfortable,” he said. 

“I’m just amazed at the community’s response and how they’ve supported us already. I think it’s because they know it’s absolutely vital to have a strong Foodbank for a resilient community. That’s how you keep people fed and healthy during a challenge.”

At Covid-19 One-year Mark, Foodbank Deepens Commitment to End Hunger Amid Unprecedented Need

In addition to meeting doubled demand for supplemental food for the last year, Santa Barbara County’s primary food assistance organization deepens commitment, expands partnerships to serve those most vulnerable in our community

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has met twice (or more) the usual need for food assistance countywide for nearly one year since the Covid-19 crisis began in early March 2020. At that time, viral infections, mandatory stay-at-home orders, business restrictions and lockdowns began in California, plunging residents of Santa Barbara County into unprecedented need. 

“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,” explained 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.”

Providing Food for Everyone in Need

Within weeks, 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-thru service for enhanced safety.

Total pounds of food distributed between March 9, 2020 and March 8, 2021: 

19,549,119

Pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits distributed, same time frame: 

8,313,581

For comparison, same time during previous year:

Total pounds of food distributed between March 9, 2019 and March 8, 2020: 

9,708,944

Pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits distributed same time range: 

4,086,509

A home delivery program was launched that provided the 1,500 low-income seniors served by our 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.

Total home deliveries provided since March 9, 2020: 60,000

Capacity-building

As lockdowns and mandatory stay-at-home orders led to precipitous job and income losses and economic collapse, need for food assistance doubled countywide. 

In order to meet the need, 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, to deliver food to more food distribution sites and to expand cold food storage.

The Foodbank enlisted invaluable additional human resources via the following sources: 

  • New hires, for a 15% increase in total paid staff
  • Thousands of new community volunteers and interns
  • California National Guard
  • AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Cesar Chavez Environmental Corps 
  • Workforce Development Board / United Way’s dislocated workers program
  • Team Rubicon, and
  • Red Cross.

The Foodbank team organized almost 15,000 volunteer shifts representing more than 27,000 volunteer hours.

Communications

To ensure that community members could find information about where and when to receive food, the Foodbank provided updated information via:

  • A collaboration with the City of Santa Maria and the County’s 2-1-1 service to offer live phone assistance to provide food location guidance and home delivery sign-ups;
  • Hard copy paper flyers updated multiple times each week;
  • Downloadable .pdfs in Spanish and English, 
  • Scrollable listings on the website, and
  • A brand new bi-lingual text-to-find-food program to serve those without wifi or smart-phones.

New Initiatives: Supporting Local Business and Reaching Underserved Populations

At the peak of the crisis, when businesses closed suddenly, the Foodbank partnered with local restaurants The Lark and Loquita for the Chef’s Kitchen program, to provide 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 school children represent a segment of the community facing 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 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 our 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. 

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. 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.

Nutrition Education

In a time when health is a central concern, the Foodbank has pivoted to make nutrition education safely available to as many in the community 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 power of cruciferous vegetables, food and mood, digestion, and diet trends.

The Foodbank’s nutrition educations programs for children – such as Kids Farmers Market (KFM) and Food Literacy in Preschool (FLIP) – 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.

About the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is transforming hunger into health by eliminating food insecurity through good nutrition and food literacy. The Foodbank provides nourishment and education through a network of more than 300 nonprofit community partners and more than 2,000 volunteers annually. In Santa Barbara County, one in four people receive food support from the Foodbank, which equates to more than 191,000 unduplicated people, 41% of whom are children. In the past year, the Foodbank distributed nearly 19 million pounds of food –half of which was fresh produce. This represents twice as much food distributed in an ordinary year. The Foodbank is assuming a major leadership role in countywide disaster preparedness with initiatives including a host of Covid-19 response programs, disaster food boxes, disaster feeding plan, establishing a new south county warehouse and updating our trucks for safer food storage and transport. For more information, visit www.foodbanksbc.org.

Organic Soup Kitchen Bridges Gap in Nutritional Services

Collaboration with local agencies provides expanded food security  

Organic Soup Kitchen has joined forces with over a dozen local nonprofits to expand nutritional services and provide critical food security throughout Santa Barbara County. Through partnerships with Cottage Hospital, Sansum Clinic, Ridley Tree Cancer Center, VNA Health, Hospice of Santa Barbara, Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, PATH, Salvation Army, New Beginnings, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, American Cancer Society, Adult Protective Services, Pacific Bridge Wellness Center, Yoga Soup, Santa Barbara Housing Authority, Veggie Rescue, Center for Successful Aging, and Community Partners In Caring.

Organic Soup Kitchen is providing critical food security to more than 1000 low income seniors and chronically ill residents each month.

“It’s more important than ever to unify efforts to reach the most underserved residents struggling to put food on the table,” says Andrea Slaby, Chief Operating Officer at Organic Soup Kitchen. “Our mission to serve Santa Barbara’s most vulnerable residents directly aligns with these incredible agencies, and together we can have a greater impact on the health and well being of our community.” 

According to The Santa Barbara Foundation’s website, approximately 10% of adults and 18.5% of children in Santa Barbara County face food insecurity. While the economic fallout from the pandemic has exacerbated this crisis, especially among our marginalized residents, it has also decreased the availability of food resources. Local agencies have turned to Organic Soup Kitchen to provide SoupMeals to their low income residents and clients who would otherwise not have access to nutrient dense food. Scaling up to meet the demand from local nonprofits, Organic Soup Kitchen continues to meet the increased needs of Santa Barbara County within their 2,000 square foot kitchen that they are already outgrowing and in need of additional storage as well as refrigeration. 

Since 2009, Organic Soup Kitchen has been the only organization in Santa Barbara County to handcraft and deliver metabolic oncology SoupMeals to the homes of low income cancer patients, seniors and chronically ill. The esteemed Cancer and Chronic Illness Recovery Program has become a trusted resource for all residents facing medical or financial hardships. Clients are referred to Organic Soup Kitchen from nearly 20 of the most prominent agencies in the County’s public health and human services sector.  

A leader in the organic food industry, Organic Soup Kitchen has been recognized for their integrity in selecting only premium whole food ingredients including organic produce and medicinal quality herbs and spices. Working closely with leading oncologists, they work diligently to formulate SoupMeal recipes that strengthen the immune system, promote healing and increase vitality. SoupMeals are hermetically sealed in BPA-free containers providing clients with 100% safe, clinically-backed nutrition with no additives, preservatives or fillers. SoupMeals are available for purchase and every SoupMeal sold provides a soup to a community member in need.

For information please visit www.organicsoupkitchen.org.