People go to Central Library to check out free lunches for kids
The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County held its first Picnic in the Park event of the year at the Central Library Monday to provide free healthy lunches for kids under age 18.
As a part of the USDA’s Summer Food Service program, the Picnic in the Park events run Monday to Friday and provide more than 300 meals a day to Santa Barbara residents alone. The food bank has 10 locations countywide. The program runs through Aug. 7 in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria and from June 16 to Aug. 14 in Carpinteria.
“This program has been, I think, a big safety net for a lot of the people in Santa Barbara County who are facing food insecurity and who are unable to leave their homes right now,” said Alex Varner, the food bank’s assistant programs manager.
Ms. Varner said she started working at the food bank this past March after she noticed there was going to be a larger need for emergency food relief due to COVID-19.
“I kind of just jumped in to see who needs help and where I can fit in,” Ms. Varner said.
According to Ms. Varner, during a normal year, children are required to eat their meals on site; however, due to COVID-19 children are now required to eat their meals elsewhere. In addition, children over the age of 12 are required to wear a mask.
Since Ms. Varner said one of the programs goals is to, “serve the community by getting our younger generation excited about healthy food,” Monday’s meal consisted of chicken Caesar salad wraps with carrots, apples and milk.
“There is definitely a big focus on nutrition in this program. So there is a serving of fruit, a serving of vegetables, a serving of protein. There’s milk with options of nonfat and one percent,” Ms. Varner said. “So it’s really a program aimed to make healthy food accessible for kids and to make it tasty and exciting and then again the activities are trying to be educational.”
“It’s kind of fun to have a way to introduce new foods to children that are picky eaters,” said Lisa Gonzalez, a senior library technician at the Central Library.
Ms. Gonzalez said the Central Library location was picked to help provide easy access to families that do not live near a Santa Barbara school that participates in a summer food program.
“One thing I noticed sometimes is Santa Barbara people feel guilty about participating in this program. They say, ‘Oh that’s for the really needy,’ but I think that under our current circumstances, there is no more ‘really needy’ anymore,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “Everybody who has a family is struggling.”
Two of the volunteers at Monday’s event were Lydia Swanson and her daughter, Annika Wagner-Swanson.
The mother-and-daughter duo got involved with the program a few years ago through The National Charity League. Now that Annika just finished her freshman year at Dos Pueblos High School, the two will be volunteering five days a week at the food bank, either serving or packing meals for others.
“It’s nice to be connected with your daughter while you expose them to philanthropy,” Ms. Swanson said.
Annika said, “It’s really nice being able to help a lotta people who are out of work.”
She added that it’s “very empowering to directly see who you are impacting.”
Although the program is on a first-come, first-served basis, during the last 15 minutes parents are able to pick up any meals that are left to bring home to their kids. Any meals left over after that will be given to La Casa de la Raza, a nonprofit serving the Latino community.
In addition to the start of this year’s Picnic in the Park, the Santa Barbara Public Library started a brand new sidewalk service on Monday where people can reserve their books online and pick them up outside the Central Library. As of now, the library does not have a date set to reopen because of COVID-19; however, Ms. Gonzalez said that construction should hopefully be gone by July.
For more information about locations where children can receive free lunch this summer, text SUMMERFOOD to 805-877-877. To donate or volunteer, go to foodbanksbc.org.