Wednesday, September 22, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 29
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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on July 20th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 21 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 21

Santa Barbara County Foodbank's Picnic in the Park program provides nutritious meals to local kids when school isn't in session

By MALEA MARTIN


Summer lunches
Picnic in the Park will happen Monday through Friday until Aug. 6 at the following North County locations: 11 a.m. to noon at River View Townhomes in Guadalupe; 11 a.m. to noon at Minami Park in Santa Maria; 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Arellanes Junior High School in Santa Maria; 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Santa Maria Boys and Girls Club; noon to 1 p.m. at Tunnell Park in Santa Maria; 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. at Grogan Park in Santa Maria; 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. at Solvang Elementary School. Until July 30, meals will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Los Alamos Park.

On July 14, local resident Maria drove up to Minami Park around 11:30 a.m. Two smiling Foodbank volunteers opened a large cooler and handed her two pre-packaged meals. Patsy Aguirre, who has volunteered with the Foodbank for the last four years, said that she typically hands out 70 to 80 meals in an hour at the park. 

Minami is one of 12 Picnic in the Park locations throughout the county, a summertime Santa Barbara County Foodbank initiative that provides free, nutritious meals to anyone with kids. 

Maria has two young kids who, like any growing children, are always hungry. As a working parent, she said it can be hard to keep up, and food prices are higher than ever. 

When the pandemic hit, Maria, who asked the Sun not to use her last name, said she was referred to the Santa Barbara County Foodbank by Social Services. 

“Then, every chance I could get I would try to go to the Foodbank,” she said. 

The Picnic in the Park program is particularly convenient for Maria because she can just drive up, grab the meals she needs, and then head back to work. During the school year, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District provides free meals to kids, but the Foodbank steps up to fill that gap during the summer. 

“It’s hard with the work schedule, and even though my husband and I work full time, getting food is harder because it’s more expensive,” Maria said. “Since the kids are at home the whole time, then they eat more.”

While the food needs from the community have increased since the pandemic, Picnic in the Park started long before. Foodbank Director of Community Programs and Education Lacey Baldiviez said the initiative began in 2011, so this year marks the program’s 10th anniversary. Feeding America estimates that food insecurity among children in Santa Barbara County increased by 47 percent from 2019 to 2020, Baldiviez said.


DRIVE THROUGH
Parents can drive up and get meals for their kids from Foodbank volunteers at various locations Monday through Friday.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SBC FOODBANK

“Picnic in the Park with the Foodbank is only through the summer,” Baldiviez explained. “It’s for students who are normally receiving free and reduced lunch with their schools, to be able to access that food outside of school during the summer.”

Before the pandemic, students would have to come with their parents to receive the meals and were required to eat them on-site. 

“During COVID, they had to change all of those regulations,” Baldiviez said. “It’s a USDA funded program, so [the regulations] came from the federal government, which allowed parents to drive through [and] take it off-site. They could pick up as many meals for their kids as they wanted, and the kids did not have to be present. … That changed to allow families to just drive through and take their meals home to however many kids they told us they had.”

Eight of the 12 Picnic in the Park sites are in mid or Northern Santa Barbara County, with one in Guadalupe, five in Santa Maria, one in Los Alamos, and one in Solvang. Baldiviez said 70 to 75 percent of the Foodbank’s services are in North County. 

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) visited an installment of the No Kid Hungry Free Summer Meal Concert Series on July 14, hosted at Canalino School in Carpinteria. Foodbank volunteers from the Picnic in the Park program, who hand out lunches every Monday through Friday at Canalino, were present. Baldiviez said No Kid Hungry helps to promote the Foodbank’s program across the county with its concert series, which have so far happened at Minami Park, Grogan Park, and the most recent one that Carbajal attended at Canalino Elementary.

Carbajal stressed the importance of these programs in the community, especially during the summer when school districts aren’t providing free meals. 

“It was drawing attention to how important those programs are, but more importantly drawing attention to the fact that even in communities here along the Central Coast that are very affluent, we have significant poverty and children’s poverty amongst us,” Carbajal said. “In Santa Barbara County, it’s an 18.5 percent food insecurity rate. It tells us that our work is cut out for us.”

Carbajal said that a lot of the county’s food insecurity, and the disproportionate amount in North County, comes back to poverty. He said Santa Barbara County has the third highest poverty rate in the state. 

“It comes down to wages and incomes,” he said. “A lot of the children obviously come from working families that are challenged every day to make ends meet. Families have to make choices between buying more food or paying utilities or rent. These are the choices many families have to make day in, day out. That’s why these programs are so important.”

The pandemic increased need on one hand, but also catalyzed funding expansion for federal meal programs. 

“A good amount of the funding comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the summer meal programs,” Carbajal said. “A lot of funding was gained from many of the economic COVID relief packages, the American Rescue Plan, the CARES act. Many of these pieces of legislation made the funding possible for these programs to continue.”

Carbajal’s office also encourages eligible families to secure the child tax credit, also part of the American Rescue Plan. The plan increased the credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child for children older than the age of 6, and to $3,600 for children yonger than 6. It also raised the age limit from 16 to 17. 

According to the White House’s website, families qualify for the credit if they make up to $150,000 for a couple or $112,500 for a single parent. Those who filed taxes this year or last year, or signed up for stimulus checks, will automatically receive payments. Payments started hitting accounts July 15, but those who didn’t file taxes can still sign up at whitehouse.gov/child-tax-credit/sign-up.

Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin at mmartin@santamariasun.com.










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