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Food Stamp Challenge: Week 4

Three Free Meals and a Night in the Car


1177 is a heptagonal number. 1177 was the year in which the Peace Treaty of Venice was signed by Emperor Frederik I & Pope Alexander III. 1177 is also $11.77 which is the total amount of food stamp money I had left for the last full week of my challenge.

Yikes!

A lot of the support that the Foodbank and our 300 member nonprofit agencies in the county provide is to people who reach a similar kind of situation, typically later in the calendar month. Bills have been paid, money spent, and there there’s nothing in the cupboard.

I have still been getting by on preparing and freezing large quantities. I made a particularly good pasta sauce with a ton of fresh vegetables pureed into it, including kale from the garden (the perfect way for us non-kale groupies to consume the nutritious little weed … ).

It was a great way to use up all the cauliflower and carrots and onions and other vegetables that I had received from distributions but which were about to go bad if I did not act. I have also benefited from some great salad stuff from my garden. Yet despite all the Rachel Ray moments, there has been a lot of monotony.

At this point, I thought it was time for an expert to weigh in with on the actual nutrition during my challenge. The Foodbank is lucky to have an experienced dietician, Serena Fuller, PhD, RD, on our staff.

Serena was pretty impressed with my discipline and planning ability and felt that I was maintaining a healthy diet. Phew! Passed the test. Our conversation then moved to the challenges that our client families face living on a small amount of money for food, year in, year out. The way to get by is by being able to buy and cook and store in bulk. There are a number of barriers to doing this: having the skills and confidence, the time to cook, the place to cook, the utensils to cook with (large soup pot, slow cooker, blender, etc.) and then a place to store both ingredients and completed meals. These can be huge barriers with many clients living in a hotel or sharing a garage. There is simply nowhere to store or save things.

The Foodbank is focused on helping provide the skills and confidence to encourage families to take the steps to equip themselves to be able to look after themselves like this. There are also good resources out there. Serena suggests checking out Food Hero at www.foodhero.org.

With so little food stamp money left, I needed to be able to score some free meals. What is out there to help those in our community who are facing the biggest challenges? My goal for the day was to find a free breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I was able to get a rib-fusing breakfast burrito from the Salvation Army’s Hospitality House.

For lunch I went to the Community Kitchen, now operated by Casa Esperanza homeless center. They say you can’t go home again, but that’s just popular wisdom. I was executive director of Foodbank member agency Community Kitchen for six years before joining the Foodbank. It was great to see the continued vigor of the staff and to meet the new nutrition-conscious executive chef, Augusto Caudillo, who has seen service at other fine Santa Barbara establishments — “Casa” Bacara and “Casa” Biltmore!

I had a good lunch (still served on a tray, but the costs of disposables or broken crockery are astronomical). The lunch featured barbecued chicken leg, salad, and a great fruit salad with julienned apples and blueberries.

The kitchen is staffed both by those staying at the shelter and by a rotating volunteer corps of servers, especially from the faith community. (All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church are particularly staunch supporters, covering two days a week).

What about dinner? I am lucky that I live about 15 minutes away from Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. The Rescue Mission offers dinner to about 100 people each night (more toward the end of the month, when people’s money runs out). Some are homeless people who also get a bed. Others are just hungry. I had some chicken and rice, soup, and salad and virtuously turned down the pastry that was offered me. All the food had originally come from the Foodbank, and it was great to see it being put to such pressing and valuable use.

So, I had managed to find three square meals, because I live within 15 minutes of S.B.’s two homeless shelters, and so I could supplement my diet. If I were on the Westside or in Goleta, I might be out of luck.

So, what better to finish off my day then with a night on the town. Or a night in my car on the town to be more precise. The current recession has seen more and more invisible homelessness with people living in their cars as a way of dealing with crippling financial problems.

It is illegal to sleep in your car in Santa Barbara, and so my only option to get some small experience of what this is like was to get in touch with the Safe RV Parking program, run by New Beginnings. I met with Nancy Kapp, who runs the program, while she was at the Foodbank picking up food for the program.

They have over 100 designated parking spots spread throughout Santa Barbara where you can park if you receive a permit from the Safe RV Parking Program. We have five spaces designated outside the Foodbank on Hollister Avenue. I can often remember working late at the warehouse and seeing the cars begin to pull up for the night, some a lot nicer than you might imagine. The windows would be covered with shades in the hope that they would offer some privacy and keep some heat in.

I took my spot around 9 p.m. and tried to get cozy. Most people come later than this, trying to find somewhere else to be before having to submit to dropping temperatures and being confined in a metal box for the night.

At first it is just like camping. A novelty. But then you begin to remember why you hate camping so much. I find it hard to get to sleep because of the cold and the lights outside. Eventually I fall asleep, but the crick in my back from my reclined seat begins to build, no matter what position I wriggle into.

I begin to scan the horizon for any sign of daylight. Any sign that I will be able to start a new day and forget about this cold, miserable night. When it gets to 5 a.m., I drive off. I’m a member of a 24-hour gym, and an hour on the elliptical followed by a hot shower sounds like the best offer I’ve had in years. Imagine doing that every night. Imagine it with a child. The adventure would wear off pretty quickly.

I’m now into the home stretch of my challenge. Stay tuned for my final report.

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