United Boys & Girls Clubs Continue Free Meal Program

Food Insecurity Remains a Very Big Problem for Families

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When public schools shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first thing Michael Baker worried about was food insecurity for the 3,500 members of the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, which he runs. “Food insecurity — it’s a very big deal,” he said. Accordingly, he instructed all the club directors to work with the school district and the Foodbank to make sure free meals would still be provided at club locations.

This Monday, 170 free brown-bag lunches were passed out at the Westside club by Bohnett Park. Ninety-seven percent of public-school students in that neighborhood, Baker noted, qualify for free or reduced-rate meals. At 10:15 Monday morning, March 23, a long line of people were already waiting outside the Lompoc club, even though the lunch program didn’t open until 1 in the afternoon. “This is not good,” Baker said. “I see it in the parents’ eyes. I see the look. It’s just despair.”

The sudden violence of the pandemic is hard to comprehend. For about 10 years, Baker noted, the economy hummed along; the cost of living was undoubtedly high, but unemployment was low. “In just eight days, everything changed,” he said. “Just eight days.” Because so many people found themselves suddenly unemployed, many kids have at least one parent at home with whom they can shelter in place. “That’s not good news,” he said. “But it’s something.”

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