Board Chair Jim Houck and Event Founder/Chair Danyel Dean | Credit: Gail Arnold

On December 5, 700 supporters turned out for a creative, COVID-modified version of The Foodbank’s popular Empty Bowls annual fundraiser, this time held outside at The Foodbank’s Santa Barbara warehouse. The sold-out event raised funds and significant awareness about The Foodbank’s incredibly valuable programs that provide healthy groceries, including lots of fresh produce, and nutrition education to low-income residents.

As in pre-COVID years, guests reserved in advance an arrival time and got to select a locally handcrafted ceramic bowl. Instead of the usual community luncheon format, guests received a soup-to-go from the Catering Connection and a packet of discounts from local restaurants. They shopped at their leisure at the marketplace, which included a wide variety of locally handcrafted ceramics, with planted succulents being especially popular and all proceeds going to The Foodbank. A variety of silent auction and raffle items offered even more ways to support this nonprofit.

Guided tours of the warehouse were popular among guests who wanted to learn more about The Foodbank’s mission and programs.

The event was founded locally 24 years ago by Danyel Dean, who continues to chair it with great enthusiasm each year. A humble Dean shared that the event comes from her heart and she feels privileged to be able to raise awareness about The Foodbank, which serves so many in need each year. With a background that includes teaching pottery for 45 years at SBCC School of Extended Learning and opening five restaurants, she is quite well-positioned for the chair role.

Dean strives each year to expand the giving circle and marvels at people’s eagerness to participate in various capacities. This year, 4th and 6th grade Crane County Day School students decorated some of the bowls, though the vast majority is still created by SBCC Extended Learning students. Dean hopes students at other schools can participate in the future. She keeps ticket prices low ($30) to encourage broad community attendance.

Even in non-pandemic times, a significant portion of the county’s population relied on The Foodbank for support, and COVID-induced financial hardship caused demand to skyrocket. In the year ending June 2021, The Foodbank distributed 18.1 million pounds of food to an estimated 192,000+ residents, about double the amount of food provided in recent, pre-COVID years. More than a third of the food was fresh fruits and veggies. About 70 percent of the distribution was in North County, with 30 percent in South County. Staff was assisted by 1,600+ volunteers, and, for 18 months, a contingent of varying size from the CA National Guard.

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Demand spiked in the beginning of COVID as a large number of people lost their jobs or had hours cut back. There was an uptick in demand again more recently, according to Senior Communications Manager Judith Smith-Meyer, as federal COVID relief programs ended and inflation heated up. On The Foodbank’s supply side, donations from grocery stores fell at the start of the pandemic as people hoarded and cooked more because of the lockdown, causing The Foodbank to have to purchase more food. Food donations now have rebounded.

According to CEO Erik Talkin, The Foodbank’s mission goes well beyond feeding the hungry. There is a dual emphasis on healthy food and the skills and knowledge to use it. Nourishment and education are provided through its own programs and those of 300+ partner agencies. 

According Smith-Meyer, The Foodbank uses multiple data sources to target areas at high risk for food insecurity. She noted the irony that with our county’s abundant agricultural produce, the farmworkers who make this bounty possible cannot afford to purchase the produce. Accordingly, in July 2020, The Foodbank launched its Healthy Farmworkers program with Community Health Centers (CHC) and other partners to provide fresh food and nutrition education in Spanish and Mixteco to farmworkers and their families. The monthly program is now at four sites in Santa Maria and Guadalupe, and thanks to a recent grant, the program is slated for expansion into South S.B. County and Ventura County. 

The Foodbank’s Santa Barbara warehouse is a rented former fire station that holds only 15 percent of the food needed to serve the area, which leads to great inefficiencies and leaves the South County vulnerable in a disaster that shuts off roadways. A new warehouse has been secured with a short-term loan, and funding efforts are underway to raise the $15 million needed for the loan and improvements. A public capital campaign will launch next year. For fiscal year 2021, The Foodbank had $32+ million in expenses, nearly all of it related to food distribution.

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Committee Members Donnalyn Karpeles and Peggy Shoemaker | Credit: Gail Arnold
Past Board Chair Vibeke Weiland and Senior Communications Manager Judith Smith-Meyer | Credit: Gail Arnold
Committee Members Merrillee Ford and Sarah Hanna | Credit: Gail Arnold
Foodbank volunteers Sarah Evans and Patty Evans | Credit: Gail Arnold
Committee members Debbi Pearson and Elisa Atwill | Credit: Gail Arnold


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