Tag Archives: Santa Maria Times

Central Coast residents to lend a helping hand Saturday

10 hours ago  •  Erin Lennon / elennon@santamariatimes.com

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County will get some welcome donations and assistance Saturday as part of this year’s Central Coast Helping Hands event, which will send volunteers to a number of projects in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Volunteers will collect and sort food donations as well as paint the Santa BarbaraCounty food bank’s 100 collection barrels and repackage bulk foods, from 8:30 a.m. to noon at St. JosephHigh School in Orcutt. Food can also be dropped off and sorted at ArroyoGrandeHigh School.

“The great thing about what’s happening this Saturday is that people will have a venue to come out and help, especially during the drought,” said Darlene Chavez, community leadership manager for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. “We’re not getting as many donations of fresh produce, and that kind of pinches our wallet a bit.”

As California’s drought continues to drive up produce prices, the food bank’s expenses are expected to increase by $200,000, making it tougher to provide for its clients and its more than 300 nonprofit partners. The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County served more than 100,000 people last year, providing food assistance to one in four county residents.

Helping Hands has also partnered with the San Luis ObispoCounty food bank and the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition.

“Even if people can’t stay and help us sort or do other projects, if they can just drop off food, that’s great too,” said Darren Hulstine, president of the Santa Maria California Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hulstine’s group has hosted the Central Coast Helping Hands event for about eight years.

Organizers have scheduled a number of other projects to keep community volunteers busy both nearby and in San Luis ObispoCounty. Those interested can help with repairs at St. Joseph’s High School, the DunesCenter and the Historic Jail in Guadalupe. Organizers will also send volunteers over to the AbelMaldonadoCommunityYouthCenter to take part in Serve Santa Maria Day, an annual day of local community service.

In San Luis ObispoCounty, participants can help with landscaping and maintenance projects at the Arroyo Grande Women’s Shelter and the ArroyoGrandeCommunityGardens.

For more information, visit centralcoasthelpinghands.org or call 714-2901.



Strawberries vital to local, state economy


FB_StrawberriesFreshly picked strawberries wait to be moved at Manzanita Berry Farms in Santa Maria, The California Strawberry Commission released a first-ever state wide economic report detailing the $3.4 billion economic contributions of strawberry farming to the state.

March 19, 2014 12:45 am  •  Erin Lennon / elennon@santamariatimes.com
Strawberries may be a delightful addition to just about any meal, but they’re a staple in California’s economy and a key element of Santa Barbara County’s vital agriculture industry.

A report released Tuesday by the California Strawberry Commission based in Watsonville, explains just how large a role this fruit plays in the local and statewide economy.

California’s 400 family-owned strawberry farms grow 90 percent of the United States’ strawberries, with the industry directly and indirectly contributing $3.4 billion to the state’s economy. In Northern California alone, nearly 2 billion strawberry plants grow in open fields from October to February, according to the report, called Sustaining California Communities: Economic Contributions of Strawberry Farming.

Strawberries are the state’s number one crop in value per acre, with California farmers growing the bulk of the nation’s strawberries on less than one percent of the state’s total farmland. Strawberries are also the fourth highest value crop and the sixth overall agriculture commodity in the state.

In Santa Barbara County, strawberries comprised $367 million of county’s fruit and nut crop in 2011, which was worth a total of $520 million. In 2012, strawberries headlined the county’s agriculture sector, which was worth nearly $1.3 billion in total production value.

The strawberry industry also provides 70,000 jobs around the state, mainly in the North and along the coast, including Santa Barbara County.

These positions encompass 30 categories, according to the commission, employing locals on farms, in the classroom, in research labs, in distribution centers and on the road.

“I think a lot of our children really understand the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Liz Powell, Food Services Coordinator at the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. “Many of the parents probably pick the strawberries for the different farmers in the area, and then the students get to eat them.”

California’s strawberry farmers invest 97 cents of every farm dollar back into the community, whether it be for worker pay, equipment or taxes.

Approximately 35 percent of the crop value goes toward labor costs. Strawberry farming creates $108 million annually in statewide tax revenue. In some areas, strawberry farmers pay more in payroll taxes than the salaries of all the area’s elementary school teachers, according to the commission’s report.

Strawberry growers also contribute their time, financial resources and in-kind donations to food banks and other charitable organizations. Local growers have been known to donate strawberries to the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County during their peak growing season, said Paul Ramirez, foodbank warehouse manager.

Santa Barbara County’s agriculture sector annually contributes $2.8 billion to the county’s economy, employing more than 21,000 workers, according to the report.




News from Foodbank of Santa Barbara County


February 08, 2014 12:00 am

The topic of CalFresh (formerly known as Food Stamps) can be confusing and overwhelming to many. But you can fill out a food stamp application ky, and get help. CalFresh is a supplemental program that helps low-income people buy the food they need in order to maintain adequate nutritional levels.

Though massive national cuts are pending, Santa Barbara County residents who are eligible can still obtain CalFresh assistance. Foodbank of Santa Barbara County provides CalFresh outreach and helps eligible community members with the application process. Nutrition education partners like the Foodbank are helping CalFresh program participants make the most of their benefits through innovative nutrition, food preparation and active lifestyle education programs.

CalFresh benefits are provided on an electronic card (EBT) that is used like a debit card and accepted at many markets and food stores, including local Farmers Markets. Recently, Morgan Stanley awarded the Foodbank a $25,000 grant in support of CalFresh outreach and education throughout Santa Barbara County.

“Giving back to the communities where we live and work is one of Morgan Stanley’s core values,” said Brian Krueger, Executive Director, Complex Manager, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Woodland Hills Complex.

“We are proud of our Firm’s grant to Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, especially since so many of us are also longtime volunteers at this important community organization.”

“Donations such as the generous grant from Morgan Stanley are important because they help make the most of getting food to people by teaching them how to create better nutrition from the food and resources available,” said Erik Talkin, CEO, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

“With the potential impact of food stamp cuts, financial support from the community is even more critical to make sure everyone is reached, including the children and working families so vital to our community’s future.”




Local organizations team up to feed the hungry


MiguelGarciaMiguel Garcia receives food from Michelle Cruff of Angel Bank on Jan. 25.

February 3, 2014 •  Jennifer Best / JBest@BestFamilyAdventures.com

On any given Friday morning, Sue McGilvray and a dozen volunteers from Orcutt Presbyterian Church can be found packing grocery bags for their customers — nearly 100 Orcutt families in need of a hand up.

Meanwhile, in a warehouse across the valley, Bill Mountford and two dozen volunteers prepare bags for Saturday morning distribution behind Rancho Bowl.

In the heart of Santa Maria, volunteers at Salvation Army prepare complete meals for anyone who walks through the door, and in Lompoc, Jeannie Begley and her cohorts at Catholic Charities wrap up another week of distribution groceries to more than 600 families in need.

Nearly two dozen churches in northern Santa BarbaraCounty have taken it upon themselves to feed the hungry throughout the year with regular grocery distribution, farmers markets and prepared meals supported by Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, grocery stores and community donations.

“My thing is: If people need food, I try to get them food. I can’t question if someone drives up in a Rolls Royce and needs food. That’s just the way it is. People can hit hard times, so we get to accommodate them,” said Mountford, lead volunteer of the Pacific Christian Church Angel Food Program.

Groceries are distributed six days a week in Santa Maria, five days a week in Lompoc, and hot meals are provided in both communities Mondays through Fridays. GuadalupeFoursquareChurch offers weekly mobile farmers markets, and Church at the Crossroads in Buellton offers the service monthly.

“Lompoc has this incredible program, Lompoc Valley Community Kitchen, where churches throughout town share their kitchens. The volunteers can move from location to location. It’s a huge organization. It’d be great if we could do something like that in Santa Maria,” said Jamie Nichols, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County director of operations.

While the holidays bring the big annual push for food bank and pantry donations, food distribution and service volunteers never let up on their efforts to serve kindness and food to residents who have fallen on hard times.

“Produce gets kind of low this time of year, and donations are usually slowest in February and March, but we’re doing all right right now,” Nichols said.

Volunteers don’t see an end to the need for food assistance, with reports of slowdowns in government aid programs and drought-threatened crops casting a shadow over the coming year.

“(There is) the end of unemployment for a lot of people, the increase in our utility rates, the drought that will have a lot of farm workers without work, and the price of food could go up,” said Begley, Lompoc Catholic Charities’ client services regional coordinator.

She said this winter’s particularly generous donations couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The Foodbank gives U.S.D.A. food free, veggies free, but everything else you buy. Those donations just happened to come in the right year. We’re going to need that so we can buy enough food to make it through,” Begley said.

Whether the pantries purchase the food or pick up donated goods, those in need never see a bill.

As customers take a number Saturday morning to line up for their pickup behind a bowling alley, Mountford notes the need for more weekend distribution sites. Pacific Christian Church offers the only weekend pickup location.

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“It gives working people the chance to get out and get some help, too,” Mountford said.

As for giving up his free time to volunteer, Mountford echoed the sentiment of most volunteers contacted for this story.

“It’s a good feeling seeing that you’re helping people, and that they appreciate getting some food. They’re in need, and I’m OK, and

I can just go do it. People have different hobbies,” he said.