Foodbank of Santa Barbara County CEO Erik Talkin is planning to spend $6.46 per day for food during February to demonstrate the hardships of food insecurity.
By keeping to a food budget of $194 for the month, Talkin hopes to draw attention to the 23,918 food-insecure seniors the Foodbank serves. That fixed-income amount is what he would receive if he were on food stamps.
“It’s not much money,” he said. “This is an opportunity to bring attention to the people who live like this for extended periods of time.”
Talkin launched his third Food Security Challenge on Feb. 1, and he will focus on the sustainability of maintaining a nutritious diet and staying healthy during the month-long undertaking.
Oatmeal and salad are meals on Talkin’s menu for the month, and he plans to carefully budget for protein.
“It also revolves around cooking for yourself rather than eating processed or pre-cooked items,” he explained. “The challenges are planning ahead, budgeting and a meal plan for the week.”
Talkin also will use cooking resources that may be available to a senior, such as a single burner, saucepan and frying pan.
He is documenting his experience on his Food Security Challenge blog.
The Foodbank offers the Brown Bag Program, in which seniors twice a month receive a grocery bag of fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, high-protein items, canned soups, pasta, eggs and cereal.
“We feel that it’s a good nutritious balance,” Talkin said. “Fresh produce is important for seniors and protein.”
He said the produce is donated by local farmers or comes from elsewhere in California.
Talkin utilized the Brown Bag Program for his past challenges, but will take a different approach this time.
“I’m going to try the challenge without that (program) and see if it’s possible to survive on the money,” he said.
According to Talkin, Foodbank studies have determined that the typical individual requesting the Brown Bag Program is a 75-year-old woman living on less than $900 a month.
Rent and transportation are also expenses to factor for seniors living on a fixed income, he added.
“Food is often squeezed (on a budget), and you can find it for cheaper,” Talkin said. “It’s a challenge for seniors.”
The Brown Bag program was founded in 1983 and includes people who pick up bags or get deliveries throughout the county.
John Huerta, a Santa Barbara native and Foodbank driver and warehouse helper, delivers the fresh fruits, vegetables and nonperishable items to food-insecure seniors living in the county.
“I enjoy seeing the impact these fresh fruits and vegetables have on people who may not be able to afford the food,” said Huerta, who has been working with the Foodbank since 2006.
“It’s a positive impact on the community. I enjoy my job.”
Equipped with plastic gloves, a handful of Foodbank volunteers packed about 80 bags at a Goleta Brown Bag Program distribution site last week.
Goleta resident Martha Smith’s husband is utilizing the service.
Ten years ago, he suffered a brain injury that left him jobless and he has undergone three subsequent surgeries.
“Our life completely changed,” Smith said, adding that healthy food is important for her 64-year-old husband.
“Before, we were in a hurry and buying McDonald’s,” she said. “Now, my husband is eating a lot of vegetables. He can feel the change.”
Smith uses every food item in their bag.
“I don’t waste anything,” she said. “We are living a great life now. The program is helping us. Our refrigerator is always full.”
The Foodbank annually distributes 10 million pounds of healthy food to 300 nonprofit organizations in the county. According to the Foodbank, many of the organizations support the nutritional health of the community’s seniors who struggle to buy nutritious food to stay healthy.