[Noozhawk note: One in a series of articles highlighting Santa Barbara’s Man and Woman of the Year awards. This year's nomination period is now open.]
Dan Ayala’s job in law enforcement exposes him to all segments of society and the consequences of at-risk behavior. He has seen how compassion can improve the lives of many. His faith and a strong belief in the common good inspires him to teach his 8-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, to think beyond herself and develop a capacity to care about others.
Understanding that not all learning takes place in school or church, Dan decided on a practical approach, and began to look for a nonprofit that would accept him and Brooklyn as regular volunteers. After a long search, he found the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County to be a perfect fit.
Dan and Brooklyn signed on to volunteer every Friday during the summer for the Foodbank’s Picnic in the Park program, which provides free nutritious meals to children age 18 or younger. Meals are also offered other weekdays in different locations, in addition to activities, games and enrichment lessons at every site throughout the summer.
Dan and Brooklyn don gloves and for two hours hand out up to 65 pre-packaged meals to all comers, seconds for the extra-hungry, and then participate in the clean-up. Dan makes sure that Brooklyn always understands what they are doing and why, and talks to her gently about kids who don’t have enough to eat. Brooklyn says, “I’m learning about charity, about helping people. It makes me feel good inside.”
According to Dan, children in need receive food at school during the school year. However, many of these children go hungry during summer vacation. The Foodbank receives donations from the USDA’s food distribution programs, local farmers, backyard growers and supermarkets. The Foodbank also receives cash gifts from generous local citizens. Dan says that for every donated dollar, staff is able to purchase $8 worth of food. Picnic in the Park meals contain a variety of healthy ingredients from all the food groups (protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit and dairy) and are welcomed enthusiastically by the children. Brooklyn says she wouldn’t mind a taste of the chicken quesadillas and the smoothies!
Dan and Brooklyn have been volunteering for the Foodbank for a few years now. During the school year, they participate in the Grow Your Own Way program, which introduces kids to the idea of growing their own food by providing small containers of seeds, plants, compost and growing materials. Then Dan and Brooklyn work in the warehouse helping to fill small cans with dirt and sometimes work at home labeling and folding the printed instructions. They rarely miss a week of working together.
Dan really enjoys spending time with his daughter and having an opportunity to serve. He takes his role as parent very seriously.
“My job as parent is to make sure that Brooklyn has a solid foundation on which to become an adult," he said. "Shame on me if I can’t teach her to think beyond the material world and to value integrity and self-discipline.”
He says he has seen changes in his daughter since the two set out on their volunteer adventure. He notes, with pride, the growth in her understanding that some people have less and therefore need a helping hand. He says he has learned much from her empathetic nature.
Brooklyn is a few weeks from entering third grade. She will be far ahead of her classmates in the citizenship portion of her education. Meanwhile, Dan applies his daughter’s lessons in empathy to his job.
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Volunteers enrich all our lives.
Do you know a volunteer who has made a significant impact on the Santa Barbara community? You can nominate that person to be the next man or woman of the year! Just fill out a simple nomination form online by clicking here. Nominations are open until Aug. 26. The awards are sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation and Noozhawk.
— Suzanne Farwell represents the Santa Barbara Foundation.