Foodbank volunteers and the National Guard work to fill boxes of food at its emergency warehouse in Goleta. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

I was leaving Ledbetter Beach on Sunday. After having trouble relaxing, I decided to pack it in early. With so much going on in the world, it can be hard to slow down. Work has been fast-paced for nearly six months, and some days I really feel the weight of it. 

But if there’s one thing I learned from my job at the Foodbank, it’s how much a difference eating whole fruits and vegetables can make on your overall outlook. I buy a big basket of fresh produce every Saturday morning at the farmers’ market, and I reach for the peach bowl any time I need a pick-me-up. (Peach season is almost over, by the way. Cherish this time before it is gone!)

After walking the shoreline and slurping down two juicy yellow-and-red peaches, I started heading toward the sidewalk. Behind me I heard, “Yay, Foodbank! Woo!”

I turned around, assuming the woo-hoo voices were speaking to me but feeling unsure how they knew. Then I remembered I was carrying my belongings in a Foodbank tote bag.

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I saw two puppy-faced boys under a beach umbrella smiling at me. “The Foodbank is awesome,” a boy said from under a baseball cap. “That’s the one at SBCC, right?”

“Yes, UCSB too. Are you a student?”

“Used to be, at SBCC, yeah….” He looked down, the end of his words cut off by disappointment. “This whole pandemic thing’s crazy. But I always went to the City College pantry to get stuff from the Foodbank!” His friend nodded in agreement.

“Did they have a lot of fresh food? Like fruits and veggies?”

“Yeah, my roommate would always cut up a bunch of the peppers and carrots and put out a big bowl of ranch.”

I laughed. “It’s not that the ranch cancels out the veggies altogether, but….”

Their cheeky smiles told me that they knew this, but their pride in the fact that they ate vegetables did not falter.

“Well, I’m glad you came to see us at school. And we’ve got pantries all over Santa Barbara County, so if you need us, you can find us near your neighborhood, ’kay? Just look us up online.”

The friend put his thumbs up and reached for his phone. “You on Instagram?”

“And Facebook! Not TikTok yet…. I don’t think we’ll be doing TikTok any time soon,” I chuckled. I’m hardly 30, but right now I feel old.

The boy in the baseball cap held up his phone. “Already following you on Insta! See you around!” I waved and walked away, laughing to myself as they did one last round of woo-hooing.

I work in the Foodbank office, and it’s rare I come into contact with our clients directly. My job is mostly looking at the need for food in Santa Barbara County in terms of numbers: number of people, number of meals, and number of dollars needed to match those two together. Lately, the numbers are exceptional and overwhelming.

The few clients I have met don’t look like who you’d describe as “hungry” people. They look like your grandmother, your food server, or, in Sunday’s case, two of your brother’s happy-go-lucky friends. That’s why hunger is such a tricky thing in Santa Barbara: It’s near invisible, but it can be found almost everywhere.

That small interaction lit up my whole afternoon, because it reminded me of how glad I am to know that we are here. That the Foodbank is here for anyone in our county who needs us. If you fall on hard times, we’ll have a box of healthy food waiting for you, and maybe a recipe to go along with it. It was a good reminder that I’m more than a “pencil pusher.” (Though there must be a better term for the digital age. Screen scanner?) 

We’re a collection of hard workers, logistical masterminds, dedicated volunteers, and passionate food-system advocates who believe that hunger is not acceptable in our community, and we are lending our talents to making that a reality.

Lauren Coiro is the Grants Manager for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

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