Undeterred by national politics, actor Jeff Bridges appeared at Bohnett Park during Thursday lunchtime, giving an upbeat talk about the growing number of locations offering free summer lunches in Santa Barbara County. With the children present in mind, he only described the ICE sweeps announced that morning as a “challenge” they all faced. On Thursday morning, President Trump had announced immigration sweeps would begin on Sunday; a similar Tweet in mid-June is blamed for drastically reducing the number of children who are being fed through the summer food program Bridges was there to encourage.
The program offers free meals to anyone under the age of 18 in 52 locations around the county without question or paperwork. It’s sponsored by the Santa Barbara Unified School District, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, and the Community Action Commission, and also offers meals to adults for $4. The school district’s food truck had parked at Bohnett Park, which is next to the Westside Boys and Girls Club, and was serving up a delicious lunch of chicken chile verde (or a grilled cheese sandwich, if the kids preferred), brown rice, lightly steamed carrots, and strawberries.
Inside the Mobile Café, which smelled richly of strawberries, Minerva Valdez said about 80 children were having lunch that day, compared to the 130-140 meals they had served when the program began in June. “With the news about the separated families,” she said, “I would not want the risk either.” More small children had come before, Valdez noted, but she and her crew of helpers kept the atmosphere light, saying it made them very happy when the kids came to eat.
The Thursday meal was highlighted by rock ‘n’ roll played by a half-dozen able musicians from Rockshop Academy’s summer program. Asking for a dance tune at the end of the short speeches, Bridges called for the kids to come dance with him, exchanging some fancy dance steps with them as adults joined in.
Program participants can text SUMMERFOOD to 877-877 or visit the Foodbank website for more information.