Helping end pain of hunger

The weatherman tells us today will be pretty nice. Highs in the 70s, a little breezy perhaps, with no chance of rain.

Sounds like a good day to get out and do something special, maybe go for a run or brisk walk, play some golf or soccer, get the grill ready for a back-yard barbecue later.

When you have a spare moment in your Saturday, you might also consider making some plans for April 1 for something truly constructive and helpful to friends and neighbors. How about writing this down in the slot for April 1 on your calendar:

Help the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s Backyard Bounty program harvest fresh food to be distributed to those facing food insecurity or outright hunger!!!!

We added the exclamation marks for emphasis, because this may be one of the most important things you do this spring, at least with regard to making our communities better.

Backyard Bounty is a mostly-volunteer program that helps the Foodbank harvest fresh produce from farms, orchards and the back yards of folks who like to grow fruits and vegetables.

And there is plenty of that. Each year Santa Barbara County farms, orchards and backyard gardens produce about a billion dollars worth of fruits and vegetables. The problem is, there is so much of these nutritious goodies that a lot goes to waste. Experts reckon about 30 percent of what’s grown locally never is harvested, and ends up rotting in fields, orchards and gardens.

To keep that waste from occurring again, Foodbank officials are seeking cash donations and volunteers to help harvest and distribute 225,000 pounds of fresh produce.

And now is the time to get the crops in. The three-month window opened in January, and so far Foodbank staff and volunteers have harvested 80,000 pounds of fresh local produce. All that from about 40 sites within the county.

Here’s why this is important: In a typical year, the Foodbank serves about 140,000 people throughout Santa Barbara County, which is about 25 percent of the total population.

It’s hard to imagine a place as beautiful and rich as Santa Barbara County has a hunger issue, but we do, and it’s chronic. More than a third of recipients of Foodbank’s help are children, kids 18 and younger. Nearly a quarter of the hungry families and individuals are military veterans, who should be getting more help from our federal government, but are not.

To help those folks, Foodbank collects, buys and distributes more than 9 million pounds of food a year. Foodbank supplies about 330 charitable organizations, who in turn operate at about 100 sites countywide.

It’s a big job, and that’s why the folks at Foodbank need your help — especially with the harvesting of fresh fruits and vegetables during these winter months. Half the food that goes to those in need is the fresh stuff volunteers and Foodbank staff harvest.

You have options. You can volunteer to do some harvesting work by contacting the Foodbank center in your community, or you can make a cash donation. A dollar invested at Foodbank equates to a yield of nearly five pounds of fresh, local produce.

Hunger in Santa Barbara County is real, and it hurts in many ways. Nearly three-quarters of food-insecure families here must make a choice each month, buy food or pay bills. On a personal level, kids without enough to eat have more trouble in school. For them, hunger is a painful distraction.

Contact Foodbank, and help end that pain.