Stung by the recession, Food from the Heart – which prepares and delivers food to more than 100 very sick Santa Barbarans every week – recently reached out for emergency funding, prompting this newspaper and others to publish articles about the nonprofit’s plight. The publicity worked, bringing much needed money in the door, but then backfired on October 9, when officials from the County of Santa Barbara’s health department visited the group’s kitchen at the Trinity Lutheran Church and shut it down.

Food from the Heart chef Robin Monroe (left) and founder Evelyn Jacobs
Courtesy Photo

“We’re not closed down because we’re dirty-there’s not an ant in this place,” said Evelyn Jacobs, who founded the group 15 years ago in her own kitchen and proudly says that they were awarded “kitchen of the year” by the Foodbank in 2008. Rather, the church’s kitchen simply lacked the permits and does not have the three-basin sink – one for dishwashing, one for sanitizing, and one for hand-washing – now mandated by state law.

Due to that reality, Jacobs realized a shutdown was “inevitable” and is now pursuing the proper permits and sink, but is lamenting that it comes right before the holidays. “The bottom line is that if these people don’t get the food, they don’t get any food,” said Jacobs. “The majority of them can’t just get in their car and buy food. These are homebound, seriously ill people who absolutely and totally depend on us.”

The clients, usually referred via a social service agency, tend to be a mix of AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer’s patients and the occasional accident survivor who are neither old enough nor poor enough – or a combination of the two – to receive help from the government. “We’re their bridge to better health or to passing on,” said Jacobs, who also serves the 25 or so hospice patients at Sarah House. “We’re ready to go guerilla underground,” she admitted, “but we can’t jeopardize this project. It’s too good. We have to stay above-board.”

The county, meanwhile, is working with Jacobs to keep the service alive while the permitting process goes forth. “We’re making it a priority and we understand that this is an important group of volunteers who do good work,” explained Michele Mickiewicz from the county health department. “But they have to provide the same kinds of safe food preparation as any other retail food facility that serves the public.”

With the permitting process likely to take a month and possibly much longer, Jacobs is actively seeking interim options, as this was the first week in which no food was delivered. “We need to find a new temporary facility that is permitted where we can step in and use it for two days a week,” she explained. “That’s not easy to find.” They’ve already visited a few facilities that “weren’t the right fit,” but Jacobs is confident the right place is out there.

Food from the Heart won’t be leaving Trinity Lutheran, however. Jacobs said the church has been “incredible” during this time and has offered to pay the required fees. “They’re doing everything they can possibly do,” said Jacobs.

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