Food insecurity is an issue that countless Americans face every day. And now, with the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, more people are losing their jobs, money and most importantly, access to food.
Luckily, there are still people there to help, including Erik Talkin, Chief Executive Officer of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
“The reality is that we see the need (of people) doubling, at least, in the very near future because of the number of people who are losing their jobs or being furloughed,” Mr. Talkin told the News-Press.
“When you think about it, if people apply for unemployment or food stamps, those offices are struggling to be at all responsive so the immediate needs of people fall on the food bank in terms of getting food.”
In preparing for the possible growing demand, Mr. Talkin admitted that “it’s a challenge.”
They are responding to that challenge, however, by making sure they first have the available space.
“We are going to be opening up two new complete warehouses, one in the South County and one in the North County and those facilities will duplicate our existing facilities,” Mr. Talkin said.
“We’re anticipating the need for twice as much food as we have now and so we need twice as much space.”
As of now, there is still discussion as to where the new North County location will be opened. As for South County, the new warehouse will be an extension of the old Direct Relief warehouse that is in Goleta.
As of right now, Mr. Talkin is still in the process of trying to obtain more food to then continually give to the people of Santa Barbara County.
“We don’t have the food to fill those warehouses yet so that’s why we’re reaching out to supporters and foundations and to the federal government as well saying that we need help providing this food to people who are really suffering now,” Mr. Talkin said.
“We already have a network of 300 nonprofit agency partners in the county that we provide food too, so some of the agencies that will still be offering, we’re partnering with them.”
On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced extraordinary measures directing all Californians to stay at home amid the viral outbreak.
Luckily, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County had already been shifting its approach to distribution before then.
“Within a day we realized that our distribution model is just not going to hack it and we need something far bigger. That shift involves a lot more direct distribution to people’s doors in terms of seniors, which is not a network that has typically been operational in Santa Barbara County too much,” Mr. Talkin said.
Because no direct distribution network currently exists, Mr. Talkin did say that it would “take some time” but added that 50 safe food distribution points have already been set up as of Thursday.
“What we mean (by safe distribution points) is that the food has been assembled into bags within a safe environment in terms of social distancing and using correct sanitary approaches for Covid-19,” Mr. Talkin said.
“The food is then distributed in a similar fashion so that means if it’s at a pantry that social distancing is happening.”
Mr. Talkin also added that a lot of the distributions will now also be drive-thru pantries, meaning that a volunteer would put the food in the back of the car and then the person could simply drive off.
“We think these types of distributions are going to be very safe for people,” Mr. Talkin said. While Gov. Newsom’s measures did not shut down the Foodbank, as food distribution is considered an essential function, Mr. Talkin said the perception of those measures could make volunteers a bit weary to come out and help.
In response to that, the Foodbank will be supplying volunteers and clients with identity cards to show any enforcement officer should they need to.
Volunteers are being emailed their credentials before they even come in for their first shift while clients can pick them up at any distribution point they go to.
“It’s just a way of them feeling a little more secure and safe around explaining to people what they’re doing. We’re just really trying to spread the word that is perfectly acceptable to come out to our distributions because we’re maintaining social distance and making sure that the food is packed in a safe environment,” Mr. Talkin said.
Mr. Talkin said that the situation right now is still very fluid, adding that things change quickly.
“That’s why we’re just really trying to focus as much energy as we can on our own delivery because that’s something that we can keep controlling. And, if people are staying at home, if we can get food to their home so they don’t have to come out and that’s going to be much better,” Mr. Talkin said.
Another way the Foodbank is making sure people are informed. While in addition to being on social media platforms, Mr. Talkin said they are also adding a text-response system to keep people informed. He said he hopes to have it ready within the next 10 days.
With all these new systems and distributions in place, Mr. Talkin said the biggest need for the Foodbank is “more support from the community and foundations.”
In 2017, during the Thomas Fire disaster, Mr. Talkin said one thing he noticed was the burnout his volunteers felt from the rapid increase in work. This time around, he has made a more concerted effort to hire more people, including four new workers he just brought on this week.
“These are not things that were budgeted. We’re just making the assumption that the community will step forward and realize that the food bank is a strategic asset that really looks after everyone’s health, not just people who’ve lost their job or food insecure people.”
To become a volunteer, you can go to https://foodbanksbc.org and click on the volunteer link on the front screen. Once filling out your information, you will be contacted about local opportunities.
Over the last few weeks, Mr. Talkin said one thing he has noticed is everyone feels a bit food insecure.
He noted that while a panic buying has especially hit families that do not have the means to buy food two weeks in advance.
“That’s a feeling that has been gripping everyone and it’s a real challenge,” Mr. Talkin said.
“I’m hoping though that once out of the situation, people will kind of remember what it felt like to have that feeling about being food insecure and to remember that we need to help people who face that problem every day.”