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Local News

Santa Barbara Foodbank Opens Food-Distribution Sites in Wake of Thomas Fire

Volunteers fill bags with non-perishable items such as dried and canned foods and fresh fruit donations

Foodbank of Santa Barbara County volunteers at the organization’s Santa Barbara warehouse on Friday were sorting through nonperishable products and fresh food donations. The Foodbank set up four emergency food and water distribution sites Friday to assist those affected by the destructive Thomas Fire burning in Ventura County. Click to view larger
Foodbank of Santa Barbara County volunteers at the organization’s Santa Barbara warehouse on Friday were sorting through nonperishable products and fresh food donations. The Foodbank set up four emergency food and water distribution sites Friday to assist those affected by the destructive Thomas Fire burning in Ventura County. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County set up four emergency food and water distribution sites Friday to assist those affected by the destructive Thomas Fire burning in Ventura County.

The foodbank is trying to combat food insecurity as the quick-moving wildfire continues to spread toward Santa Barbara County.

As of Friday night, the fire had grown to 143,000 acres and was10 percent contained.

The foodbank distributes to 300 nonprofit partners and programs throughout Santa Barbara County, according to Judith Smith-Meyer, the organization’s marketing communications manager.

A handful of agencies are reducing services because their staff was sent home to protect their health as ash and smoke from the blaze affected the air quality in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, Smith-Meyer said.

Health officials warned of high pollution levels because of the smoke. 

“At the same time that distribution becomes more difficult, secondary impacts lead to increased need for food among community members, even though they have not been displaced by the fires,” Smith-Meyer said.

The foodbank supports one in four individuals in Santa Barbara County, of which 38 percent are children, she said.

Local schools serving as the nonprofit’s distribution location and nutrition education programs with food distribution components are also closed, Smith-Meyer said.

“Families lose access to meals for their children because the schools that provide them are closed,” Smith-Meyer said. “Others are unable to work because businesses shut down or reduce work hours during emergencies, so hourly employees face sudden loss of wages.

"Owners of businesses connected to tourism and recreation — along with their service providers and vendors — experience immediate loss of income.”

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County warehouse in Santa Barbara was open to the public Friday to assist those affected by the destructive Thomas Fire burning in Ventura County. Click to view larger
The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County warehouse in Santa Barbara was open to the public Friday to assist those affected by the destructive Thomas Fire burning in Ventura County. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

At the foodbank's warehouse near Santa Barbara — one of four South Coast distribution sites set up Friday — a handful of volunteers equipped with face masks were sifting through paper bags filled with nonperishable items such as dried and canned foods and fresh fruit donations.

Salty and sweet snacks, mandarins and cereal were some of the items housed at the facility at 4554 Hollister Ave.

Pam Boswell, a volunteer, was sorting products and checking food expiration dates.

In the past, she has participated in the Foodbank’s Backyard Bounty program, but it was her first time volunteering at the warehouse.

The Santa Barbara Middle School teacher decided to help because classes were canceled on Friday due to air quality and safety. 

“This is a way I can do something for people who are affected by the fire,” Boswell said.

Boswell said she was assisting a woman who was evacuated from her home near Faria Beach in Ventura.

On Tuesday night, flames from the Thomas Fire burned down the face of the ridge above Highway 101 in the area of Seacliff, Solimar Beach and Faria Beach west of Ventura.

“She did not know how long she is going to be camping in her trailer,” Boswell said. “She has kids with dietary needs, so it was a search to find things without egg and dairy — but we found a lot. There’s a wide selection.”

The foodbank collected an estimated 2,100 pounds of food from local carriers, said Jesus Lopez, the organization’s warehouse manager.

Lopez said freshly picked apples were donated from the Bragg Farm, Feeding America gifted water, and Bimbo Bakeries contributed about 5,000 loafs of bread, among other donations.

“It’s a community effort,” Lopez said. “The public doesn’t normally come here, but we have opened our door. Anyone in the community that normally goes to the local agencies that we support can come here.”

Lopez said the foodbank is in discussions about having more distribution sites in the upcoming days, but nothing officially has been set.

The foodbank is also assisting at the Red Cross evacuation shelter at UC Santa Barbara.

The organization delivered 3,500 pounds of food and water, including 730 pounds of fresh mandarins gathered this week by volunteers in its Backyard Bounty program, according to Smith-Meyer.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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