Tag Archives: Foodbank

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.

Santa Barbara Foundation’s Social Good

Writing this inaugural issue of The Giving List has entailed speaking with and studying the work of 52 of Santa Barbara’s most important nonprofit organizations. Throughout, I have discerned a vibrant and brave nonprofit community, staring down the crisis we all have behind and before us with purpose and commitment.

At the heart of all this community stands the Santa Barbara Foundation, which in its tenth decade has weathered many storms, emerging as Santa Barbara County’s key convener and catalyst for positive change. A look back into the Foundation’s history and its strategy offer a salve and strength for the uncertain future we face together. 

“If there has ever been a question as to the need of the Foundation in Santa Barbara, it would certainly seem that the present emergency facing the country would justify the existence of such an institution,” said Charles B. Raymond, the Santa Barbara Community Foundation’s first president, in 1930 as the Depression brought desperation to so many Santa Barbara residents. 

Then – as now – the Foundation stepped into quick action, offering emergency employment for workers to improve city property, and by supporting the Red Cross Sewing Project that paid women to make clothes for citizens in need. Facing child hunger during the Depression, which is disturbingly ubiquitous today, the Foundation contributed to the Community Chest Milk Fund, which helped young children gain weight and fight off tuberculosis.  

In the 1940s, the world was at war and Santa Barbara County was struggling through years of severe drought. The Santa Barbara Foundation jumped into action, seeking plans to retain more water, and defraying the travel expenses of two county supervisors to plead for the construction of the Bradbury Dam, which would, at least before the ravages of climate change further strained the water supply, ensure that the shortages of the 1940s were not to be repeated. 

Following the Civil Rights gains of the 1960s, the 1970s saw the emergence of environmentalism in Santa Barbara and the creation of a nonprofit infrastructure to meet the social justice challenges coming into ever starker relief here and across the nation.

“The Foundation must broaden its assistance in the community to meet current needs,” said then-Foundation President Harold W. Beard. “The pattern of giving followed in its past history must be reviewed in light of changing times and problems.” 

Catalyzed by a devastating oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast in 1969, local activists came together to create the Community Environmental Council. With significant Foundation support, the council would, in 1975, start the nation’s first-ever recycling center, an achievement with long reverberating implications. In 2020, the organization celebrated its 50th Anniversary of Earth Day in Santa Barbara, the oldest event of its kind.  

During this era, social issues like child abuse and sexual violence were met with Foundation-supported, sector-leading nonprofits including CALM (Child Abuse Listening & Mediation) and Standing Together to End Sexual Assault then known as the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. Capital contributions to the Boys & Girls Clubs created the network of physical locations that are so important to working families today.

Laurie Leis, the executive vice president of advancement at United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara, remembers looking at a Boys & Girls’ budget from 1938 and seeing a $250 donation from the Santa Barbara Foundation. “They are always the first ones to come in and say, we are going to help,” Leis says. “They are the voice for us. They bring a call to action when so many voices go unheard in this community. The Foundation is the voice of the hungry, the homeless, the families in need.” 

In 2018, the Santa Barbara Foundation launched an ambitious five-year plan focused on eight “priorities for impact.” Consistent with its history, the Santa Barbara Foundation studied the landscape and identified the most pressing issues of need, ranging from food insecurity to homelessness and a frayed and inadequate childcare system. 

“We wanted to broaden our reach by narrowing our focus, and we found that a handful of key social and economic challenges reverberate into every aspect of Santa Barbara County’s health and well-being,” said Foundation President & CEO Jackie Carrera. 

The Foundation immediately went to work to support vulnerable populations in areas of behavioral health, health care, food, shelter, and safety, while uplifting working families in the areas of childcare, workforce development, and workforce housing. The Collaboration for Social Impact was developed to advance the strength and capacity of nonprofits, and, by virtue of the Foundation’s stature in the community, guiding individual and institutional funders to focus attention on pressing issues in the community. While thoughtful, the Foundation couldn’t have imagined how prescient the strategy would prove. 

“As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, social injustices, and economic worries, we are confident that our focus on vulnerable populations and working families is the correct direction,” Carrera said. “We have already experienced increasing need and will continue to follow our strategy to provide critical support in these areas.”

Like Foundation presidents before her, Carrera immediately recognized the need and, with her team, got to work. In March 2020, the Foundation reactivated its Community Disaster Relief Fund, which had been established in the wake of the 1/9 Debris Flow. Days later, the Foundation, in collaboration with United Way, the Hutton Parker Foundation, and the Foundation Roundtable, launched the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort to provide funding to nonprofits responding to Santa Barbarans mounting emergency needs. By the end of October, a 34-member funders’ collaborative that the Foundation co-leads has mobilized over $18.9 million to support individuals and nonprofits in Santa Barbara County. 

Carrera noted, “with decades of community knowledge, a tradition of diverse, meaningful support, and outstanding stewardship of community investments, the Santa Barbara Foundation is well-positioned to support the health and vibrancy of Santa Barbara County, now and for decades to come.” 

Easy Lift

Several years ago, my elderly neighbor gave up driving due to recurring hip injuries and a debilitating autoimmune disease. Sometimes I’d look across our cottage complex and notice a taxi waiting to take her to doctor appointments or grocery shopping – she was old-fashioned enough to not even own a smartphone, so Lyft and Uber were out of the question. Finally, after trading in her walker for a wheelchair, she found out about Easy Lift, the Santa Barbara nonprofit whose mission is to restore some dignity to the disabled through providing mobility.

Now I’d peer out the window to see the nonprofit’s easily recognizble Dial-a-Ride vans pulling up to her door, and watch the friendly, always punctual driver lower the mechanical lift and then wheel Rose into the van before making sure she was secure in her seat. Then the van would take her wherever she wanted to go, whether to get medical treatment or pick up prescriptions or even to just go visit a park. The rides cost a mere $7 roundtrip, just a fraction of what two cab rides used to set her back, a godsend on her fixed income as a retiree. 

It was one of the things that made life worth living, I remember her telling me. “Stories like that warm my heart,” says Ernesto Paredes, Easy Lift’s longtime executive director. “It’s what has kept me motivated and inspired over all these years because for a lot of people, we are truly their only line of transportation and connection to our community.”

Paredes admits he didn’t always feel that way, at least not when he first started at the organization back in 1991, 12 years after Easy Lift began operations and just one year after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect. 

“Back then I thought I’d be with this nonprofit for a year to get some experience and then I’ll move on to somewhere else,” he says. “I thought transportation wasn’t sexy, it’s not sheltering someone or feeding someone, it’s just access. But you don’t realize the importance of transportation until you don’t have it.”

Ernesto Paredes, Easy Lift’s executive director, with Ron Werft, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cottage Health

Just think about when you drop off your car at the mechanic for the day and you’re dependent on someone else to pick you up and then take you back again, Paredes suggests. “You can really feel helpless, and it’s just one day,” he says. “That’s the way some people feel every single day, like prisoners in their homes unless they have a service like Easy Lift to get them out.”

With that principle in mind, Easy Lift has grown to provide, via its fleet of 30 vans, an average of 300 rides a day on demand for the elderly, disabled, and anyone physically or cognitively unable to ride MTD, even temporarily, plus nearly 1,000 rides per month for low-income Medi-Cal residents to travel to and from non-emergency medical appointments through a partnership with CenCal Health. 

The ongoing pandemic has put a dent in that demand, of course, anywhere from 40-60 percent depending on restrictions, Paredes said, as the ill and elderly are most vulnerable to suffer serious effects from contracting COVID-19, so voluntary trips have declined drastically. But, Paredes points out, those who require treatment like dialysis can’t just postpone it. So the drivers, whom the ED calls the heart of the organization, have stayed true to the task, working diligently to comply with the CDC guidelines for distancing and disinfecting, although, Paredes says, it’s almost impossible for them to be six feet apart at all times because they have to secure the wheelchairs to the floorboards.

“We try to prepare them and educate them and give them the proper tool, but they’re the ones who put themselves in harm’s way,” he says. “That just tells you how great our drivers are.” 

When the pandemic first forced the stay-at-home orders and demand decreased, Paredes also arranged for idle vans to be used to support the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County to transport food from their storage area on Hollister to its locations in North County. Easy Lift also stepped up to take over for HELP of Carpinteria, the all-volunteer nonprofit that provides similar door-to-door transportation service to non-driving residents of that city, because the organization would have had to shut down as most of its drivers were seniors who themselves wanted to shelter at home. 

“We spoke to their board and their executive director and offered to continue transporting their seniors free of charge, which we’re still doing today,” Paredes said. “It’s really about looking out for our brother and sister nonprofits because we’re all in this together. The pandemic has made a lot of us closer because of what our community members are going through. And it’s also given me and my fellow EDs a chance to shift from merely managing our organizations to really leading, look at our business models and see if they’re still effective.” 

That spirit is what drives Paredes to let potential donors know that while his organization can always use more funds – partly because people often mistakenly think that Easy Lift is part of the MTD system, he said – he wants donations to go where they’re most required. 

“We always need ongoing support, but we’re not trying to create a war chest of money,” he says. “I’m a community member first. If there are other organizations that need the money more than us, we should help the ones that are really suffering. Just follow your heart.” •MJ

Easy Lift
www.easylift.org
(805) 681-1181

Feeding Hungry People During a Rolling Crisis

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.