Running on Empty

8 Feb
The great wheel of life turns...

Here I am: The coolest thing that is both on four wheels and wrapped in a pink duvet.

When last we left my Food Security Challenge, I was down to my last $11.77 in food stamp money and hoping that I would be able to score some free meals designed to help those in our community who are facing the biggest challenges.

Could I find a free breakfast, lunch and dinner?

First up is breakfast, and I made my way to the bottom of Chapala Street and the Salvation Army’s impressive Hospitality House.

Hospitality House

Hospitality House

There I met up with Enrique who gave me one of the Sally Army’s breakfast burritos, made with beef, rice, cheese and vegetables.

Enrique reaches for the burrito

Enrique reaches for the burrito

They give out about 50 of these each day and they are made by those in their residential programs. That was quite a belly filler, but sure enough, when lunchtime came around, I was looking for something else.

CK Logo

My next stop was at my alma mater, the Community Kitchen, located within the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter. They say you can’t go home again, but that’s just popular wisdom. I say ‘go home’ because I was Executive Director of Foodbank Member Agency, Community Kitchen for six years before joining the Foodbank.

Your faithful and wooly-hatted scribe sharing lunch with Casa Esperanza staff members Imelda Loza and Jose Figueroa.

Your faithful and wooly-hatted scribe sharing lunch with Casa Esperanza staff members Imelda Loza and Jose Figueroa.

I was excited to see the improvements that have continued since I was in charge, and marveled at the dedication of staff like Imelda and Jose who are still working hard to help homeless people.

It’s all down to the food, and the Community Kitchen is able to access a lot of healthy produce and meat from the Foodbank. Yet, as I have discovered, unless the Chef is ‘in the zone’ you might as well be eating sludge.

That is why I was thrilled that they have engaged an enthusiastic young Executive Chef, Augusto Caudillo, who has seen service at the Bacara and Biltmore.

Augusto Caudillo

Augusto Caudillo

I had a good lunch – still served on a tray, which I always hated because it has that institutionalized feeling, but the costs of disposables or broken crockery are astronomical. The lunch featured barbecued chicken leg, a nice salad and a great fruit salad with julienned apples and blue berries.

Lunch at the Community Kitchen

Lunch at the Community Kitchen. Loved the fruit salad (top right) not so sure about the refried beans (bottom left). It must be being brought up in England.

The Community Kitchen is primarily designed to serve the residents of Casa Esperanza (about 200 in winter, under 100 rest of year), but also those in the community who need a lunch, who now need to get an id card to be served after the first day. The kitchen is staff both by those staying at the shelter and by a rotating volunteer core of servers, especially from the faith community. (All Saints By The Sea Episcopal Church are particularly staunch supporters, covering two days a week).

All Saints Volunteers serving the line

All Saints Volunteers serving the line

Like the Foodbank’s approach, in addition to literally serving those in need, food and meals also provide a key to engagement – for the Foodbank, around nutrition and health education that changes lives and strengthens families, and for Casa, around building trust and helping connect the homeless with opportunities to access jobs, housing and recovery.

What about dinner? I am lucky that I live about a fifteen minutes away from Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.

Rescue Mission

Rescue Mission

The Rescue Mission offers dinner to about 100 people each night (More toward the end of the month when people’s money runs out). Some are homeless people who also get a bed. Others are just hungry.

Rescue Mission decides to invest scarce funds in food rather than state-of-the-art client management software...

It looks like the Rescue Mission decided to invest scarce funds in food rather than state-of-the-art client management software…

I was lucky enough to be showed around by Rescue Mission Manager Jill Wallerstedt before I took my place in line.

Jill Wallerstedt in the chapel, which features a  service from a different denomination each night

Jill Wallerstedt in the chapel, which features a service from a different denomination each night

I had some chicken and rice, soup and salad and virtuously turned down the pastry that was offered me. All the food had originally come from the Foodbank, and it was great to see it being put to such pressing and valuable use.


So, I had managed to find three square meals, because I live within 15 minutes of SB’s two homeless shelters, and so I could supplement my diet. If I was on the Westside or in Goleta, I might be out of luck.

This is the safety net, and posing as a modestly scary-looking single man (would you start something with someone with a hat like that? He might go psych0) I was able to access these services. Do I want to bring my wife there and kids there? A much harder call. There were some kids at the Community Kitchen lunch but none at the Rescue Mission.

So, what better to finish off my day then with a night on the town. Or a night in my car on the town to be more precise. The current recession has seen more and more invisible homelessness with people living in their cars as a way of dealing with crippling financial problems.

It is illegal to sleep in your car in Santa Barbara, and so my only option to get some small experience of what this is like was to get in touch with the Safe Parking program, run by New Beginnings. I met with Nancy Kapp who runs the program, when she was down at the Foodbank getting food for the program.

Nancy Kapp (she actually took off her sunglasses for the shot)

Nancy Kapp (she actually took off her sunglasses for the shot)

They have over 100 designated parking spots spread throughout Santa Barbara, where you can park if you receive a permit from the Safe Parking Program. We have five outside the Foodbank on Hollister Ave. I can often remember working late at the warehouse and seeing the cars begin to pull up for the night, some a lot nicer than you imagine. The windows would be covered with shades in the hope that they would offer some privacy and keep some heat in.

I took my spot around 9pm and tried to get cozy. Most people come later than this, trying to find somewhere else to be before having to submit to dropping temperatures and being confined in a metal box for the night.

Yes, even grouchier than usual...

Yes, even grouchier than usual…

Santa Barbara is not Chicago, yet nevertheless it does feel pretty cold at night, and it is amazing just how quickly the temperature in a car begins to get near the outside temperature. I could have switched on the engine and let the heat blow for a while, but with the price of gas that would not be a smart option. Anyway, as soon as the engine is switched off the cold returns quickly. The leg nearest the door is the one that remains cold all night even though I have pajamas under my clothes and wear a coat and hat and scarf.

At first it is just like camping. A novelty. But then you begin to remember why you hate camping so much. I find it hard to get to sleep because of lights outside and I have no way of covering the window. Eventually I fall asleep, but the crick in my back from my reclined seat begins to build, no matter what position I wriggle into.

I begin to scan the horizon for any sign of daylight. Any sign that I will be able to start a new day and forget about this cold, miserable night. When it gets to 5am I drive off. I’m a member of a 24 gym, and an hour on the elliptical followed by a hot shower sounds like the best offer I’ve had in years.

Imagine doing that every night. Imagine it with a child. The adventure would wear off pretty quickly. The beauty of this program is helping to keep people safe, with what may be the last asset between them and the street -a safe place to park while New Beginnings provides services and case management to help them get back on track.

I’m now into the home stretch of my challenge. Stay tuned for my final report.

2 Responses to “Running on Empty”

  1. eatinginsb February 9, 2013 at 6:18 am #

    Good entry. That was a long day. We live in a pretty amazing city with services and help. Good point though that with children if would be much fore challenging.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. debby February 9, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    You are a very brave man!! Our local schools have a program that people can donate food for homeless children from a list provided that the children can take home in their back packs for the weekend. The items on the list are not something I would have wanted my kiddo’s to eat on a regular basis but at least they have something. We donate extra veggies from the garden to our local soup kitchen. So many of the people are elderly with small children that have been dumped on them from their adult children or even grandchildren, so sad

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