Meeting the Newly Food Insecure

1 Feb

This Monday I began my Food Security Challenge. I instantly blew exactly 1/4 or one week of my money on food at Trader Joes. Typically when I do the challenge, I drive people crazy with my ‘lavish’ food choices (like $8.99 on smoked salmon). But my approach is quality, not quantity, and besides I can get the key protein ingredient of six meals with one packet. But I will need to spend more this week to get some staple items (brown rice, eggs, wholewheat bread) that will last me through most of the challenge.

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This week I also had the opportunity to meet with government workers who until last week had been unpaid as a result of the shutdown. I used to think FCC stood for Federal Communications Commission. It was a place that got a lot of complaints. Now, after visiting the prison in Lompoc, I have discovered that FCC also stands for Federal Correctional Complex. There are over 500 Federal employees at the prison that range from CO’s (Correctional Officers – I can see I’m impressing you with my knowledge of nomenclature) through to admin, counseling and support staff.

Since soon after the beginning of the government shutdown, we have been operating a distribution of food to federal employees. Typically this has meant that they could swing by our north or south county warehouse at a set time and pick up meat, produce and a range of groceries. When it came to the central city of Lompoc, we saw that a lot of the need was centered around the prison and also NASA workers at nearby Vandenberg Village, so we brought the distribution to them.

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Foodbank employee (and part time superhero) Jamie Diggs signs up federal employees to receive food.

I spoke to a number of federal employees who did not want to be named. They were still concerned about the repercussions of speaking about the challenges they faced, which were numerous.

Since the onset of the partial federal government shutdown, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has now provided 21,300 pounds of fresh produce and healthy groceries to 1,500 individuals from 460 families. Hardest hit were communities within the county that already face a high rate of food insecurity, so the loss of income from furloughs has been truly painful. Families reported to me that they have not been able to get back on their feet, having delayed many expenses and now contending with bills that piled up, unpaid, during the shutdown.

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Volunteers even helped put grocery bags in people’s cars.

These families are facing the same challenges that food insecure families face all the time: having to choose between paying for electricity or food, rent or food; car repairs or food; a visit to the doctor or food. It was a shock for them to one minute have a steady job and the next to be facing payments that needed to be made with no money to do it.

One thing is clear. The Foodbank is here for everyone in our community who needs help.

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