Exercise and healthy eating go hand in hand, but combining triathlons and food banks take it to a whole new level. That’s the young life of 12-year-old Jacob Mansbach, an extremely active 7th grader at Santa Barbara Middle School who has biked, swam, and run in triathlons for the past five years while raising money and awareness for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
It started in 2012 when Jacob, then 8 years old, and his dad, Mike, decided to do the Santa Barbara Triathlon together for fun. But it became much more meaningful once his mom, Jennifer, took Jacob to the Foodbank, the beneficiary of that year’s race. “It just clicked for him,” she said. “When you go and see the food and how much needs to be sorted and packaged … it meant a lot.”
Jacob had a great time sorting beans that first day but also learned about the needs of others. “When you or I feel hungry, we can just go and get food,” said Jacob. “A lot of [these kids] can’t go and have that; they don’t have a choice. One in five kids live in hunger in Santa Barbara. It was originally at one in four, so it’s gotten better. I’d like to think it was me,” he added with a smile, “but I doubt it.”
Jacob raised $4,510.56 in his first race — the largest fundraiser for that year’s triathlon, he proudly reports — and in 2013, he formed the Join Jacob team, recruiting other kids to the cause. “I find triathlons so fun, and I don’t know why everyone doesn’t like them,” said Jacob. “Why wouldn’t anyone want to do it?”
Originally just Jacob, his dad, and his brother, Joseph, the team now includes friends and their families — the largest team thus far, with 16 people. So far, they’ve raised more than $70,000, and each member volunteers at the Foodbank as part of the training to make that link between the cause and their community.
Three years ago, Jacob wanted even more children to help at the Foodbank, which is primarily run by adult volunteers, so he created Saturday Family Day. Once a month, any interested parents and their kids can sort and package the food. “Our focus is kids,” said Jacob, “kids being able to help others.” Since then, more than 20,000 kids have volunteered, according to his mom.
This Saturday, November 12, the Mansbach family is putting on a Thanksgiving food drive and volunteer festival at the Foodbank’s warehouse. The event will include music by Spencer the Gardener (expect “The Gobble Song” and other food-friendly ditties), classes from the Apples to Zucchini Cooking School, and more. They’re seeking donations of frozen turkeys and chickens, rice, low-sugar canned fruit, low-sodium canned veggies, stuffing, canned pumpkins and cranberries, beans, nut butters, oatmeal, and cereals.
But Jacob’s work remains unfinished. “I know that it’s unrealistic, but I want [Family Day] every Saturday,” said Jacob. “I want people to not depend on us to go to the Foodbank and volunteer. I really love doing it. I want it to be more.”
Jacob and Spencer’s Saturday Family Day Food Drive & Festival is Saturday, November 12, 9:30 a.m.-noon at Foodbank of S.B. County (4454 Hollister Ave.). See foodbanksbc.org or call (805) 967-5741.