George Relles

Talkin’ with Talkin

Interview with Foodbank director Erik Talkin

Sunday, December 20, 2009
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With the bounty of food for the holidays, thoughts also turn to those who go hungry every day. This prompted an interview with Erik Talkin, executive director of our county’s Foodbank, headquartered in Goleta Valley.

Please tell me a bit about your background and what you do at Foodbank.

I’ve been doing this job for a year and a half. For six years before that I was executive director of Community Kitchen at Casa Esperanza, one of the 220 agencies Foodbank provides food to. This was an opportunity to move from helping just one group of people to helping people countywide and to get involved in nutrition in a wider, more preventative-medicine type sense.

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George Relles

My job is to run this organization. I work with the board to set policy and with the departments within the Foodbank, such as operations and programs, development, volunteers and agencies.

Though some people think we are a food pantry where people can come to get food directly, we don’t work like that. Our job is to provide food to all the food pantries around the county who then distribute it to people in need.

Where does the food that you distribute come from?

Nationally we’re members of an organization called “Feeding America.” That’s the network of all 205 food banks throughout America. As a group we go out and try to get donations of food from major manufacturers such as Kraft. We also get food from local stores such as the 26 supermarkets throughout the county and from neighborhood food drives.

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But we also have to buy a lot of food. We search for really good, staple items such as cooking oil, rice, and beans, things that we really need, but are not always donated in sufficient quantities.

What is Foodbank’s Mission?

Our mission is to provide nourishment to those in need by acquiring and distributing safe nutritious foods via local agencies and providing education to solve hunger and nutrition problems in Santa Barbara County

Are there really hungry families in this prosperous county?

Yes, and it’s not just hunger. There’s a lot of what is called “food insecurity” in this county, people not knowing where their next meal is coming from. So they are not dropping dead from starvation, but there is still a lot of malnutrition and obesity from eating a lot of empty calories. Our county has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in California.

How do you know this?

We find out in a number of ways. Every quarter our agencies provide information on their needs and who they are serving. There has been a 35 percent increase in the number of people they served in the past year. We are currently providing food to one quarter of the people in this county.

What’s your budget?

Our cash budget this year is $3.1 million. We receive food donations of nearly $11 million.

As people consider end-of-year donations, some may ask how efficient your spending is.

First, I want to stress that we have tremendous buying power. Due to our buying power of all the food banks working together, we can buy $7 worth of food for every dollar we are given.

We’re quite proud of our efficiency. 97 percent of donated cash goes toward food purchases. Only 3 percent goes toward administration and fundraising. When people give money, they know that it’s going to feed people. Food donations provide only about 15 percent of all the food we distribute so we need dollar donations to cover the remaining 85 percent of our needs.

Also we have a virtual food drive at our website where people can “buy” food and donate it to us electronically, from the comfort of their home. They can pay with a credit card and immediately get a receipt for their tax deduction. This saves the time and cost of driving to a store, buying groceries, and physically delivering them to us.

What do you need most: donations, dollars, volunteers?

We need the support of the community and for everyone to realize that the Foodbank is not just a short term band-aid for feeding people today. We have a very serious mission of transforming the health of the community through good nutrition. So we would love for people to contribute to our organization in some way. We can turn that $1 donation into $7, we would love people to volunteers, and we would love for them to bring food. People can learn more or donate at our website

Also people can drop off food at either our south coast or north county facilities, or talk with Diane Hadighi at 967-5742, x112 about volunteer opportunities. In addition to our food drives, people growing fruits or vegetables at their homes or farms can call us. Through our “Backyard Bounty” program, volunteers will come pick it and give you a receipt for a tax deduction.

Do you really think we can end hunger here?

Yes we can. We continue doing what we have always done, feed the hungry. But in order to get at the problem at a root level we are getting more into nutrition education among very young children. We give them the experience of where food comes from. And we are teaching them cooking, which empowers children over what they eat.

Because people come to us for food, we’re in the perfect place to say “Here’s your food, but at the same time we’re going to give you some healthy food and teach you how to use it.”

Our mission is to solve the nutrition problems in this county and I believe they are solvable.

There is even more to Foodbank than mentioned here. Check out their website, you'll be glad you did.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I live in a senior center. I received the pre-bagged food for a while. There is no choice. You get what they give you. I found what they offered was not what I wanted, especially absent were fresh or frozen greens and fruits. Their emphasis was on shelf life, root vegetables and cans. I usually gave away most of what I received. I canceled my participation.

Also some of the canned goods were USDA products. Yuchy taste. That big can of orange juice was a science fiction combination of weird ugly and awful taste.

Second rate food for second class citizens.

Bird (anonymous profile)
December 21, 2009 at 1:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hi Bird: How sad you were not satisfied -- or grateful. I am a disabled senior, and a brown bag recipient for the past two years, and I have an absolutely opposite commentary to yours. I have continuously received fresh lettuce and bagged salads, potatoes, cabbage, squash, onions, varied seasonal fresh vegetables and a variety of fresh fruits. We receive these on a continual basis. Each bag contains a minimum of four (usually five) of these types of nutrious fresh foods. I always receive a fresh loaf of Oroweat bread, either rice or pasta, and a protein -- either a frozen chicken, large package of sliced ham or turkey, or one dozen fresh eggs as an example. The large cans of juice you mention are varied, and I like the apple/cherry mixed with water and ice, it is very refreshing. There is no "weird science" with any of the juices, and they taste fine considering they are not fresh. Perhaps you can afford the almost $5 for the "fresh" juices, but most of us cannot and we are grateful to get juice. I find the variety of foods to be a nutritious grouping and the additional cans of brand name corn, tuna, tomatoes, stew, peas, apricots, peaches, and soups help make many meals. Also the addition of milk, energy bars, cookies, macaroni and cheese, couscous, and an assortment of goodies donated by Trader Joe's make for a varied menu. There is always enough variety to make many meals for the two weeks until I receive another bag, and whatever I cannot use I share with another disabled person who needs food. Considering all the seasonal fresh fruits we receive in each bag such as plums, oranges, pears, apples, apricots etc. I am really shocked and disappointed by your comments. I find your commentary to be totally untrue actually and wonder why you wrote it. Last week I received large portions of fresh broccoli florets, pea pods, tangerines, oranges and yams, plus 2 lbs. of sliced deli ham (frozen -- and please note that was five fresh foods) plus all the other foods. After more than two years of receiving this program I cannot agree with anything that you wrote. I am sorry you feel as you do, but surely you are the exception as the recipients I know are truly grateful and extremely happy to get this wonderful and varied help especially as there are now so many more hungry families who need the food. Great Job Food Bank -- Your work IS appreciated!

Izabella (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2009 at 1:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

No phone. No pool and ADA CERTIFIED SERVICE DOGS...
CoExisting with these UNIONIZED Public Service Employees who have become THE Worse "Domestic-Enemy," in the history of Amerika?
With a pickup truck, no cooking or frig storage facilities to store/cook already OVER-THE-EDGE HANDOUTS... One can only wonder how YOU GOT "FOOD STAMPS"?

It's like hiring a man, mule and wagon to haul enough bird seed to feed ONE BIRD??!

And then there are Bill Browns and Cam Sanchez's THUG to finish us off ...for the NEGATIVE DEMOGRAPHICS... THEY NEED TO get federal Blok-Grant Funds to prove THEY NEED MORE... oney for Law Enforcement, Courts & Administration of (sic) "Justice benefits and payroll?

sammyquintana (anonymous profile)
January 30, 2013 at 2:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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