Local nonprofit Food From the Heart has been helping combat food insecurity among the area’s most vulnerable for more than 25 years.
Each week, the group delivers bags of fully prepared meals to some 160 people at no cost. The nonprofit serves those who are managing a major illness, recovering from surgery, living alone or don’t have the financial support to hire a caregiver.
The wide-ranging impacts from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have caused countless businesses to shutter their doors. For the first time in the history of the local nonprofit, which dates back to 1994, there is a rising concern that future operations may be altered.
“We cannot stop our service, our clients depend on us,” said Executive Director Steven Sharpe, who has been with the organization for the past year-plus, though is by no means a stranger to the nonprofit.
Mr. Sharpe first became involved with Food From the Heart back in the 1990s when he was working with the Pacific Pride Foundation and its local AIDs project. The nonprofits founder, Evelyn Jacob, approached PPF and offered to cook meals for their clients.
“I literally worked for an organization when she came to use to start this project,” Mr. Sharpe said. “It feels like a really good coming home for myself.”
Mr. Sharpe also worked with Tom Rollerson, who founded The Dream Foundation back in 1994, and served as its executive director. He then worked in the arts, serving as general director of Opera Santa Barbara and also served as the general manager for Camerata Pacfica.
“I really have been involved with a lot of different local charities,” he said. “My whole reason for shifting my career, and really my life, was to make a difference.
“I just feel like my time is counted, you know? It’s making a difference and that is really important to me.”
Mr. Sharpe said that Food From the Heart intends to continue its mission through the COVID-19 pandemic. The group’s delivery volunteers are now wearing gloves and masks and have been instructed to just knock on the doors of their clients, as opposed to going inside, connecting with them and offering support.
“It’s hard for us to make this transition, but we’re doing the best we can,” Mr. Sharpe said.
Each week, recipients are given a large grocery bag with a main entree (this week was corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day), a baked casserole, a large salad with dressing, a deli salad, a small dessert, a bag of fresh fruit and a bag of freshly baked local bread.
“We basically try to bring what we consider would be one weeks worth of food so that everyone we serve is fed for the bulk of the week,” Mr. Sharpe said. “All of our clients are pretty much homebound, recovering and need us to ensure they’re ability to feed themselves.
“Food security is our primary goal.”
The nonprofit does its cooking at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, at 909 N. La Cumbre Road, and hopes to continue operations as more and more venues are closing.
“We hope they will stay open during this time for us, but we just don’t know,” Mr. Sharpe said.
In recent days, the group has discussed tailoring the weekly shipments in order to remain in operation. They have discussed other measures, but for now have no intention of stopping.
“We’re not going to stop delivering,” Mr. Sharpe said. “Our goal is to continue delivering to our clients, even if we have to collect canned goods, we’ll still keep going. Our goal is not to stop, but to make sure that we can offer what we can to accommodate our clients in this pandemic.”
Some 90 people volunteer each week to help the organization fulfill its clients’ needs, but the group has started cutting back on support staff as they advise its elderly volunteers to take care of themselves and avoid possible exposure.
“We have made the hard decision to ask our volunteers to stay home… and we’ve made the decision to keep going with these younger volunteers who we feel can help in allowing our older volunteers to opt out,” Mr. Sharpe said.
“Anyone who wants to reach out, help, offer some support — they can always contact us. We trust the SB community will help us continue our work and thank all those who support us.”
Those interested in volunteering or donating can visit www.sbfoodfromtheheart.com.
Donations range from $35 for a single shipment to up to $350 for 10 shipments. Options include a one-time donation, a monthly donation or annual donation. All pledges are 100% tax deductible and help cover operational costs, such as food, container and insurance.