Tonja’s Story


When I moved from my home country the Netherlands to Santa Barbara last year, I was 7 months pregnant with our first baby. Exploring my new homestead with a big belly, I first heard about the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County at a sustainable foods fair at the UCSB. Two passionate Foodbank volunteers told me about millions of pounds of healthy foods sourced by the Foodbank each year for their 300 non-profit partners, as well as the Foodbank’s in-house programs that empower people who face food insecurity with free nutrition education and improved access to healthy foods for program recipients and their families.

I believe it as an advantage that the United States has had a far longer tradition of food banks than my country of origin. While food banks in the Netherlands focus majorly on giving out foods to low-income people, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County builds on an ever increasing amount of knowledge about nutrition and has created best practices to share this with the community such as teaching people about healthy and affordable foods, empowering community leaders to build stronger local networks and establishing innovative partnerships with health organizations in the community; these activities unknown to most of the food banks in the Netherlands.

I immediately felt passionate about working for the Foodbank and I finally got the chance about 8 months ago and ever since have been very happy to use all of my previous working expertise and efforts to roll out Foodbank’s new nutrition education program for people living with diabetes that also deal with food insecurity. I am grateful for the partnerships we’ve established with health organizations in both Santa Maria and Santa Barbara that increase our impact and compliment our individual strengths.

My daughter, Lea, is now 15 months old and being a mother makes me even more aware of the importance of improved access to healthy foods for everyone. Being able to provide my child with nutritious foods is a blessing and unfortunately not a straightforward thing for every parent, while it should be. Everyone at the Foodbank works hard to see this changed and it is only through generous donations and strong partnerships in the community that we can continue our work.

Tonja van Gorp is the Community Programs Coordinator at the Foodbank.