Wednesday, March 21 , 2018, 5:59 pm | Rain Fog/Mist 58º


Food from the Heart’s Kelly Onnen Working to Nourish Bodies and Souls

16-year-old nonprofit on quest to expand donor base so more meals can be provided to house-bound patients

[Noozhawk’s note: Kelly Onnen is board chairwoman of Food from the Heart and Robin Monroe is the organization’s director/chef. An earlier version of the story below was incorrect.]

Imagine you have a life-threatening illness that keeps you from leaving your home, and maybe even from moving freely from room to room. You have no family nearby, and although you may have a caretaker, he or she might be too tired to cook a nutritious meal for you at the end of a strenuous day.

Food from the Heart board chairwoman Kelly Onnen says she gets more out of the bags of meals she delivers for the volunteer program than she puts in. 'It's so good for me to be a part of that,' she says.
Food from the Heart board chairwoman Kelly Onnen says she gets more out of the bags of meals she delivers for the volunteer program than she puts in. “It’s so good for me to be a part of that,” she says. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Enter Food from the Heart, a local nonprofit organization that brings restaurant-quality, nutritious food to some of the community’s most fragile people. Food from the Heart delivers 126 bags of food per week to people in medical crisis or under the care of hospice or visiting nurses — which means the bags feed nearly 200 people.

“We’re the only contact for a lot of people,” said Kelly Onnen, the group’s new board chairwoman. “We say somebody still cares about you, and you are worth a visitor” and she thinks that’s what separates Food from the Heart from other meal delivery programs.

A volunteer with the organization for seven years, Onnen stepped in as board chairwoman in August when founder and then-director Evelyn Jacobs stepped down. Jacobs started the organization in 1994 as a way to meet the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS, and the operation has expanded its reach since then. Robin Monroe is Food from the Heart’s director and chef.

But unless you’re receiving the meals, you probably haven’t heard of Food from the Heart.

“We’re kind of Santa Barbara’s best-kept secret,” said Onnen, adding that it’s something she’s trying to change.

Onnen has served on boards of more established nonprofit organizations, and compares Food from the Heart’s structure to that of a start-up company. Things like overhauling the Web site, rewriting by-laws and other efforts are all under way. But Onnen knows more than a thing or two about getting a business running; she started Santa Barbara Airbus with her husband, Eric.

She bowed out to stay home and raise the couple’s two daughters, but became active in the volunteer world. When she began to volunteer for Food from the Heart, it was a natural fit for Onnen, who loves to cook. She began taking her daughters with her as she worked in the kitchen and delivered meals, and the experience has been both eye-opening and humbling for her.

“My life is good. We’ve had a lot of opportunities,” she said. But delivering the bags presents “a reality check. It’s so good for me to be a part of that.”

Food from the Heart is also looking for more donors so it can expand to meet more of the community’s needs. Although it’s trying to grow enough to bring meals to the homeless, “we’re maxed out where we are now,” Onnen said. The organization works from a donated space at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 909 N. La Cumbre Road, and receives donations from All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Community West Bank, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Jordano’s, Montecito Bank & Trust, Our Daily Bread, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and Whole Foods.

Food from the Heart is in need of corporate sponsors that might be able to donate meat, herbs and spices, all of which the organization must pay full price for.

People looking to donate may offer to sponsor a client for their food needs for the month, which amounts to $55 for four bags. If it sounds cheap, that’s because it is. Monroe goes to the Foodbank to survey what food is available and then creates a menu based on that, which is different every week and all restaurant-quality, according to Onnen.

Then 65 volunteers, a group Onnen says refers to each other as family, meet to prep, cook, package and deliver the made-from-scratch meals. Each bag also includes dessert, always a special treat, especially for someone battling illness.

Onnen said she’s amazed by the amount of food that Food from the Heart is able to prepare each week, and more volunteers are welcome. To get the word out to potential donors, she’s also planning a series of “Chef’s Table” events at which guests will have lunch at the Food from the Heart kitchen, served up what’s being prepared and getting a front row seat to the activity in the kitchen.

Click here for more information about Food from the Heart, or call Onnen at 805.451.7174. Click here to make an online donation to Food from the Heart.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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