Food From The Heart Hosts Sips & Nibbles

Nonprofit Provides Nourishing Food to the Homebound Ill

Executive Chef Aaron Casale, Board Chair Kelly Onnen, and Executive Director Steven Sharpe

On April 18 in El Paseo’s Courtyard and adjacent tasting rooms, Food From The Heart (FFTH), a very aptly named nonprofit, hosted its annual Sips & Nibbles. The event raised funds for FFTH’s weekly program of providing tasty and nourishing food to homebound, ill individuals in Santa Barbara and Goleta.

Guests mingled in the scenic courtyard and wandered in and out of tasting rooms —Grassini Family Vineyards, Happy Canyon Vineyards, and Barden Wines (a Margerum brand) — where they enjoyed wine and gourmet food by Aaron Casal Catering, C’est Cheese, The Wine Cask, Renaud’s Patisserie and Bistro, and Nothing Bundt Cakes.  

During the short program, Executive Director Steven Sharpe welcomed the guests and shared his enthusiasm for Food from the Heart’s 25th Anniversary. He warmly thanked the many volunteers and donors who were present, emphasizing that Food From The Heart could not do what it does without their support.

Founded in 1994, Food From The Heart provides nutritious, tasty food to about 160 homebound, ill people each week in Santa Barbara and Goleta. With a lean staff of four part-time workers and a core group of 60 volunteers, FFTH prepares and delivers food free of charge. The organization’s name, according to Board Chair Kelly Onnen, reflects all the love that goes into each bag of food. Onnen shared that “It’s a fabulous, heartfelt program. So many in our community struggle with serious illnesses and lack resources to obtain freshly prepared food that can nourish them back to health. We love being that resource for them. It truly is a calling of love.”

Volunteers prepare the food under Executive Chef Aaron Casale’s direction at Trinity Lutheran Church, which makes its kitchen and fellowship hall available at a greatly reduced fee. Another group of volunteers packs the food and another delivers it. Volunteer drivers keep the same route each week so that they can develop a rapport with their clients. 

According to Executive Director Steven Sharpe, FFTH’s clients are battling illness or recovering from major surgery, live alone, are homebound, and do not have the funds to hire a caregiver. FFTH nourishes them as they manage their illness or recovery. Volunteers speak enthusiastically about how much they enjoy being a part of the program, which explains why most stick around for many years.

Board Vice Chair David Gonzales volunteered as a driver one day about 10 years ago. When he appeared at the home of one of the clients, the client gave him a big hug and told him that “you’re what keeps me alive.” Right at that moment, according to Gonzales, he was hooked. Ten years later, he still enjoys being a volunteer driver every week and finds clients so appreciative of FFTH’s efforts.   

The bags of food, which are designed to last at least four days, contain soup, an entree, a baked casserole, a couple of salads, a bag of fruit, dessert, and bread. Menus change based on the produce donated that week. Not only is the food tasty and nutritious, it is also visually appealing, which Onnen explained is important to entice clients who have poor appetites.

Fruits and vegetables are donated by area residents and harvested by volunteers. Pilgrim Foundation and Veggie Rescue also contribute produce. Last year, FFTH had a surplus of harvested fruit, so it donated 50,000 pounds to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and smaller amounts to other nonprofits. Bread is donated by Panera Bread, Vons, and Ethnic Breads. 

Clients are referred from medical agencies, with many coming from Hospice of Santa Barbara, the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, Cottage Health, and Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care. Clients can also self-refer. There is typically a short waitlist, but those who truly need the service right away are added immediately. 

Cash donations are always sought and new volunteers are always welcome. For more info, go to http://

Treasurer Kathy Denlinger and Vice Chair David Gonzales demonstrating an arm’s length of raffle tickets.
Boardmembers Jean Howard and Carmen Ortiz
Denise Eschardies and Boardmember George Thurlow
Guests mingle in Grassini Family Vineyards Tasting Room
Paula Yurkanis Bruice and Jill Seltzer
A Renaud’s Patisserie and Bistro creation

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