Event raises more than expected for Foodbank of Santa Barbara County
The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s Lompoc Empty Bowls event made a triumphant return this week after a three-year hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 400 attendees, along with an array of local sponsors and donors, came together to share a meal Wednesday and raise more than $60,000 that will go toward maintaining and expanding food bank services in Lompoc.
“We had budgeted to raise $45,000, so we brought in a full third more than we anticipated,” senior communications manager Judith Smith-Meyer told the News-Press. “The community and our sponsors really came together to make the event a huge success.”
Attendees of the event at Dick DeWees Community Center were able to enjoy a meal of gourmet soup donated by local chefs served in custom, hand-painted bowls provided by the Allan Hancock College, Lompoc Valley Middle School, Santa Ynez Valley Community Outreach (formerly known as the Buellton Senior Center) and the Vandenberg Spouses’ Club. People were able to take home bowls with them as a reminder of the fact that hunger still exists in our society.
The event also featured a raffle, silent auction, custom succulent planting for purchase, bowl-making demonstrations and entertainment provided by Santa Maria native DJ Suz.
Also in attendance serving meals to event goers were 2nd District County Supervisor Gregg Hart, 3rd District County Supervisor Joan Hartmann and Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne.
Aside from offering outdoor seating for the first time, the event was described as “business as usual” by Ms. Smith-Meyer, except for there being “a very jubilant feel to the whole event.
“The mood was just one of rejoicing to be together and support the community,” she said. “There was an extra high level of joy about it. Everybody missed it, so it was a great moment when I was able to say how happy we were to be back and the people walking through the door just echoed how happy they were to be back at Lompoc Empty Bowls as well.”
Food bank donor relations supervisor Anna Boren said the last Lompoc Empty Bowls was scheduled for March 28, 2020 and was canceled at the last minute because of COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Everything was planned and we were ready to go!” Ms. Boren said in a news release. “We were so disappointed to have to cancel at the last minute. That’s why we’re rejoicing so much to gather with the community this summer for Lompoc Empty Bowls.”
The money raised from Wednesday’s event is expected to go a long way toward helping the food bank’s numerous programs dealing with nutrition literacy and food distribution, the latter of which was put under immense strain during the pandemic and is still above pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re not serving as many individuals or distributing as many pounds of food as we did during the peak of the pandemic. That (need) was really unprecedented and hopefully will never happen again,” said Ms. Smith-Meyer. “The numbers just started to come down earlier this year.
“But then we saw another spike in May, where numbers went way up again, and they’ve stayed at that level” due to the rising costs of food, gasoline and housing caused by inflation and international discord, she said.
The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is also looking to expand its focus on homeless populations.
While it has long worked with partner organizations to distribute food to those without housing, the food bank is aiming to take a more direct role in the distribution process through a variety of measures such as creating meal packages that don’t require refrigeration or the use of a kitchen to prepare.
Along with homeless populations, the food bank is also expanding its services to active and retired service members through the use of a monthly mobile food pantry at Vandenberg Space Force Base. That program is in its third month of providing food distribution services.
“We really want to reach out to active service members and veterans and make sure that they have what they need,” Ms. Smith-Meyer said. “They’re out there in service to all of us so we definitely want to be sure that they can have access to all the healthy foods that they need to stay strong.”