National Guard Steps Up to Distribute Food

Foodbank of Santa Barbara County Clients Swell in Number

National Guard Staff Sgt. Viana Cuyan directs a volunteer as they pack bags of food for delivery, at the Foodbank warehouse in Santa Maria on Friday. | Credit: Len Wood, Santa Maria Times

Foodbank of Santa Barbara County staff and volunteers are feeding four times more than their usual number of customers, and extra hands have arrived in the form of the California National Guard. In South County, six Guardsmen from the 146th Airlift Wing — and 14 in North County — are helping the Foodbank assemble and distribute the additional deliveries of fresh produce and healthy staple foods the nonprofit supplies to 300 partner sites for free.

A record 83,000 pounds were sent around the county on Wednesday alone, said Judith Smith-Meyer, the Foodbank’s marketing director, and in March the nonprofit surpassed one million pounds of foodstuffs, an agency record. The camouflage-wearing Guardsmen were first deployed on Friday in Lompoc, when the emergency food distribution at the Boys & Girls Club, which normally serves 125 families, saw 200 lined up when it opened, said Jamie Diggs, a Foodbank manager.

The South County contingent is led by Lieutenant Colonel Adam Goldstone, who is an optometrist from Los Angeles in his normal workday life. “We’re here to do whatever is needed, for as long as we’re needed,” he explained as his troops moved produce from the parking lot into cold storage. The guardsmen are nurses and medical technicians, part of the 146th’s medical team, which is based at the Channel Islands National Guard in Port Hueneme.

Photo: Jean YamamuraThe California National Guard arrives to help the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara County was the first to receive National Guard help in Southern California, said Smith-Meyer. “These 20 National Guard members will offer an immediate benefit since we recently doubled our space with two temporary warehouses,” said Paul Wilkins, Foodbank chief operations officer. They’re taking part in the Safe Food Net emergency distribution sites — which include 20 new drive-through locations — and also the new Safe Home delivery service for seniors.

The new initiative’s name indicates the handwashing, sanitizer use, disposable gloves, and social distancing “employed meticulously” in all Foodbank operations, said CEO Erik Talkin. “The health, and most immediately the safety, of community members receiving food, our volunteers and partners, our drivers, and our staff, is our utmost priority,” Talkin said.

Because of the state’s shelter-in-place requirements for seniors, Foodbank has added food delivery to homes to its Brown Bag programs. National Guardsmen are helping with some of those deliveries. Also helping Foodbank are a number of nonprofits whose own operations are sidelined by the pandemic, said Talkin, including Girls Inc., which sent 12 vans to use for deliveries. To receive a delivery, call 2-1-1 or (800) 400-1572. Deliveries, which are left on the doorstep, are also available to disabled individuals.

Deliveries increased from 50 to 2,000 in the past several weeks, Talkin added, and the volume of calls is also up. Volunteer help at Foodbank’s call center was needed, said Talkin, especially people with bilingual skills. To participate, even for a few hours, he said, call (805) 967-5741 x209 or email lchilders@foodbanksbc.org.

To meet the increased demand, Foodbank spent $100,000 on nonperishables, produce, eggs, tortillas, and bread. USDA supplies and Emergency Food Assistance Program goods are on order and farms and warehouses have come through, but Foodbank now has the space for more donations. Please call (805) 967-5741 to arrange for drop-off or pickup.

Editor’s Note: Foodbank needs bilingual telephone volunteers and contact information was added to the story on April 1.

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