Local Foodbank volunteer shares importance of food security during holiday season
Many individuals never thought they would need to depend on a food bank to put dinner on the table.
However, with the economic recession from the pandemic and the high unemployment numbers, reliance on services such as Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and other food distribution agencies has increased.
With that being said, Debbie Fleming is here to say that it’s OK, and people like her are ready to serve, especially over this holiday season.
Ms. Fleming has been a volunteer at Foodbank of Santa Barbara County for two years now, following a nearly 30-year career at UCSB working in student services and affairs and reaching the position of assistant vice chancellor of student affairs.
“I really just jumped in with both feet and tried almost everything they (Foodbank) offer,” she told the News-Press. “They have so many different things you can do, which was one of the things that attracted me to it, seeing all the aspects of feeding the community, from picking the food to distributing it to packaging it up.”
Ms. Fleming volunteered both pre-COVID and post-COVID, and said, “The amount of food we’re giving out is phenomenal.”
Foodbank of Santa Barbara County saw an increase in service countywide, both for the amount of food distributed and for the number of people served, at about double or 250% since COVID-19 hit.
“To serve all this food, they need to staff all these distributions too,” Ms. Fleming said. “It’s been encouraging to see the number of people in the community who want to get involved and get up early in the morning.”
In a normal year, Foodbank distributes nearly 10 million pounds of food. Over seven and a half months of the pandemic, it distributed about 14 million pounds, according to local media reports.
Ms. Fleming said she believes food is such a universal need and provides a sense of comfort. Especially during the holiday season, she said food represents being with family and celebrating.
“But, really, during COVID, so many people have a need for food because of being out of work, not being able to leave their home for fear of being in public, or having some immune-compromised system,” she said. “It’s a universal need all the time, but during COVID, it’s been particularly important to be able to reach people in their homes.”
Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has a host of different food distribution events, including its Mobile Farmers’ Markets, Mobile Food Pantries and Brown Bag programs.
The organization also added SAFE Food Net Distributions when COVID-19 hit. The food at these sites is prepared and distributed following CDC recommendations and social distancing, with options such as drive-thru pickup.
“The Foodbank has made it (volunteering) really safe to do,” Ms. Fleming said. “All of their procedures that they have pinned in place during COVID have made me feel really confident that I feel really safe.
“I think it’s made it feel better for the people getting the food to know we’re wearing gloves and masks, social distancing and disinfecting. All that kind of stuff has been rigorously maintained.”
Overall, Ms. Fleming said the importance of showing up for the people relying on Foodbank’s services is the highlight of volunteering for the organization.
“A lot of times when you volunteer, you might be somewhat peripheral, but I really feel like the volunteers at the Foodbank are actually out in the community, face-to-face with clients, getting the job done,” she said. “They (staff) are really entrusting you with doing the job.”
To learn more about Foodbank and its services or volunteer opportunities, visit https://foodbanksbc.org.