None of us knows when we might need a strong safety net to keep us from free-falling to the bottom. Increasingly, for the poorest residents of Santa Barbara County that safety net is being gradually taken apart.
The Community Kitchen at the Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter in downtown Santa Barbara is an outstanding local resource that serves very healthy and nutritious meals to some of the poorest people in our city.
Currently it serves three meals a day to the residents of the shelter and is open to the public at lunch times, during which it serves about 120 other people. Due to severe budget shortfalls, the large public lunch program will be suspended on Sept. 3 and the Community Kitchen will only provide meals for shelter residents.
This will be a devastating loss for our community, and it will have huge negative impacts for our neighbors on the streets and other poor people in our community, many of whom are seniors, working families, people with mental health challenges and veterans.
I believe that if our community rallies around this pressing concern that there is a chance that this program could be saved. It will take the combined efforts of ordinary citizens, philanthropic organizations and the faith communities.
The Community Kitchen fills a very important need in our city, and the reduction of its services will leave a gaping hole in the continuum of food services provided for our county’s poorest residents.
I know this well because I have significantly benefited from the Community Kitchen as well as other programs offered by Casa Esperanza.
Perhaps like many people in Santa Barbara, I had no awareness of any of the programs for my first two decades living in this area. I arrived in Santa Barbara in the mid-1980s to do graduate training at UCSB and taught mostly at local colleges for the next 20 years.
A series of personal crises in 2005 left me suddenly unemployed and homeless. A friend dropped me off at the Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter, where I gained access to mental health services, learned about addiction treatment options and started on a journey to a new and healthy life. Throughout my long and sometimes difficult journey of recovery, the Community Kitchen was always there to feed me!
My point is that none of us knows what crises might befall us later in life and when we might need a strong safety net in our community to save us from a free-fall to the bottom. I certainly did not. A child of a middle-class family educated to be a working professional, I had no inkling of the exact nature of our local social safety net.
But when I desperately needed help it was there. At one point in my comeback I was staying at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, waiting for a treatment bed to become available at the Hotel de Riviera. While the Rescue Mission provides a light breakfast at 5:30 a.m. and a simple but hearty dinner at 6:15 p.m., were it not for the substantial meals provided by the Community Kitchen, I would have become very hungry each day.
The Community Kitchen is a vital lifeline for those trying to rebuild their broken lives!
While the need for the lunch program at Casa Esperanza is mitigated for some people who are able to access emergency food stamps or for those who are eventually able to receive a monthly benefits check from SSI/SSDI, many people using the Community Kitchen are probably like I was and had nowhere else to eat. Our journeys of recovery depended on access to wonderful programs like these.
Remember, I did not have to panhandle for money on State Street to feed myself, nor resort to stealing. Good, healthy food was provided to me so that I could begin to pick up the pieces and make myself whole again.
Here are some things you can do to make a difference.
» 1) Generously give to the Community Kitchen by clicking here.
» 2) Ask others in your faith community if your church or temple might become a monthly sustainer. If 25 churches in Santa Barbara each give $500 per month, that would be $150,000 per year!
Let me end with some closing words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Why should there be hunger and deprivation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life? There is no deficit in human resources. The deficit is in human will."
Let us find the will to keep the Community Kitchen operating at full capacity.
— Wayne Mellinger, Ph.D., is a social justice activist living in Santa Barbara and social worker for the homeless. He is on the board of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE).