February 3, 2023
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Chumash join fight against food insecurity in SB

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By Madeleine Benn

Staff Writer 

Food insecurity is a great source of stress for nearly one in four members of the Santa Barbara County community. It is only exacerbated during the holiday season. 

On Dec. 6, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians donated both time and money to the Santa Barbara Foodbank’s Santa Maria warehouse. The Chumash donated $75,000 out of a total $150,000 gift, while also volunteering their time for a few hours. 

“We have been partners with the Chumash for many years. They’ve been very supportive… so we’re very grateful for that. This particular donation was special because it is supporting the future of the food bank,” said the Chief Development Officer for the Foodbank, Alisse Harris.

She continued, “The historic cost of living increases here has led to many families facing tough decisions… many must choose between purchasing medicine, paying rent or buying healthy, nutritious food.”

Vivien Minton, marketing director for Foodshare of Ventura, provided similar details. “The cost of purchasing food has risen dramatically. For example, the cost of purchasing a case of canned mixed vegetables rose 30% in 2021 versus in 2020, while the cost of purchasing a crate of canned mixed fruit has risen 39% over the same time period.” 

“In the month of November, we served 39,000 meals, but if you want to reflect back to June, we served upwards of 26,000 meals,” said Jann Huling, the Chief Operations Officer for Project Understanding in Ventura. She explained that just five years ago they were serving 257 families a month and that today they are serving over 4,000 meals a month.

Harris said, “I think it’s important to note that these things are happening throughout the year, not just in the holiday season, but are of course brought to light more throughout the holidays.”

“Hunger goes on 24/7/365. The holidays, by convention, are when people find themselves more generous or more aware, whether that’s the spirit of the holiday or whether it’s because of how it’s marketed, people are more inclined to support any kind of generosity. The problem is, people aren’t just hungry around the holidays, they have poor nutrition all the time,” said Dr. Charles Stolar, a pediatric surgeon and the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara. 

But food banks do count on the holidays for a good chunk of their donations. “Our primary fundraiser for the year is the Telethon happening this Friday, Dec. 9, airing on KEYT. We get local banks and businesses to sponsor the event and do matching minutes,” said Dawn Williamson of Unity Shoppe, a charity located in Santa Barbara. She continued, “There’s going to be appearances by Kenny Loggins, Brad Paisley and surprise celebrity guests. It will be on from 5:00-8:00pm.” 

Unity Shoppe is partnering with Toys for Tots for an event to give local children a special gift for the holidays. Their other big drive of the year is the back to school drive for shoes and backpacks.

Food Share of Ventura receives an equivalent total of almost $50 million annually from a variety of sources, including public contributions, government grants, foundation grants, donated food and others. 

“This year, Food Share gave away 2,200 turkeys, plus seasonal vegetables and stuffing,” said Minton. 

Williamson said, “We distribute over a quarter of a million pounds of food every year, with about 300,000 meals made from that food. The average retail price of a visit is between $250 and $300, but that’s because it’s not just the food staples so much as it is the clothing and the personal household essentials.”

As to how hunger may present itself, Dr. Stolar said, “They don’t come to see a physician because they’re hungry or they have bad nutrition. They may show up at a food bank. But food bank workers are generally not healthcare professionals.

“Children who have poor nutrition have delayed development… An adult who is nutritionally challenged, more than likely has been nutritionally challenged for a long time if not since childhood. It’s going to make such a person more vulnerable to lifelong illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer and so on. Should they suffer from those diagnoses, they’re going to do more poorly than an adult who’s well nourished.” 

As to how they present emotionally, Williamson said, “They’re grateful for the assistance. We get a lot of positive feedback. Gratitude and hope would be how they present.”