Santa Barbara County Foodbank’s Growing Clientele

Santa Maria Times
December 16, 2014
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Santa Barbara County Foodbank uncovers information about growing clientele

Many working families made tough choices in Santa Barbara County to make ends meet and ensure there was food on the table over the past year, according to the Hunger in America 2014 study released by the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and Feeding America.

Of the 140,575 residents served by the foodbank, more than 70 percent of households reported having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities or transportation in the past 12 months. The same struggle was seen in 60 percent of client households that had to choose between food and medicine or medical care during the same period.

“In Santa Barbara County, faces of food insecurity and hunger may not stand out from the crowd, but the poverty of working families, and the day-to-day trade-offs that the study brought to light are alarming,” said foodbank CEO Erik Talkin. “It’s hard to imagine facing the choice between your family going hungry or being able to pay for the transportation you need to get to your job, or the housing you need to shelter your family.”

These struggles have led more than 70 percent of households served by the foodbank to adopt three or more strategies to stretch their food budgets.

These game plans could involve eating food past its expiration date, buying cheap and unhealthy food in lieu of healthier options, growing food in gardens or selling personal items to pay for groceries. Families may also dilute foods and drinks to make them last longer.

 “The Hunger in America 2014 findings demonstrate the urgent need for all of us to address hunger in our communities,” said Feeding America CEO Bob Aiken, whose organization is the nation’s largest hunger-relief agency. One of those findings was that 35 percent of clients had not signed up for SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps. In Santa Barbara County, those benefits fall under CalFresh, and county staff pointed to a number of reasons why people do not apply for benefits for which they may be qualified. They may worry about their immigration status, assume it would be difficult to apply or stay enrolled in programs and assume they are not eligible, according to Dennis Tivey in the county social service department.

“The Hunger in America 2014 findings demonstrate the urgent need for all of us to address hunger in our communities,” said Feeding America CEO Bob Aiken, whose organization is the nation’s largest hunger-relief agency. One of those findings was that 35 percent of clients had not signed up for SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps. In Santa Barbara County, those benefits fall under CalFresh, and county staff pointed to a number of reasons why people do not apply for benefits for which they may be qualified. They may worry about their immigration status, assume it would be difficult to apply or stay enrolled in programs and assume they are not eligible, according to Dennis Tivey in the county social service department.

Hunger is an especially timely topic in Santa Barbara County where about a quarter of the population sought out food assistance in 2013. Of those clients, 49,729 were children and 21,750 were 60 years or older.

“The number of people being served continues to grow,” said Judy Monte, development manager at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. “So, we know that we need to help not just give a man a fish, so to speak, but teach him to fish.”

Food insecurity has stressed many areas of families’ lives over the past year, with 52 percent of client households having had to choose between buying food and paying rent or the mortgage at least once along with other struggles.

With this information and the other data available in the 2014 report, the foodbank plans to strengthen its community impact efforts, which focus on the affect the foodbank is having and can have on hunger in communities around the county. It also plans to develop its Food Action Plan, which will lead to a more sustainable food system in the future.

“Foodbanks used to talk in pounds of food, and some still do,” said Bonnie Campbell, foodbank director of community impact. “We don’t use that language anymore. We talk about meals, how we can get them out there and how we can shorten the line.”

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