Sunday, April 5, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 5
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Organizations in the Cuyama Valley look for money and food donations to help the rural community stay fed through the pandemic

CAMILLIA LANHAM

While the Cuyama Joint Unified School District is providing meals for students every weekday during the COVID-19 school closures, community members are working to ensure those students get a second meal during the week.

Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to noon, any child 18 years of age or younger can pick up a meal at one of two locations, according to district Superintendent Alfonso Gamino. Those locations are Richardson Park in New Cuyama and Santa Barbara Pistachio Company store in Maricopa. 


Donate
Have a little extra cash or some farm fresh produce waiting for a home? Consider donating to the Cuyama Valley COVID-19 Relief Fund. Visit kindest.com to make a monetary donation or email em@blueskycenter.com if you’re a farmer or rancher who’s looking to help.

FRESH AND READY
The Blue Sky Center, Cuyama Buckhorn, Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center, and other community members are working to raise funds and food for families in need during the COVID-19 crisis.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CUYAMA BUCKHORN

A little more than 250 kids depend on the district’s free- and reduced-meals program, according to Blue Sky Center Executive Director Em Johnson and Cuyama Buckhorn partner Ferial Sadeghian. Blue Sky and the Buckhorn are working with community members to try to close the gap on hunger when students don’t have access to those meals (such as breakfast and dinner time) and many area residents have lost their jobs due to business closures during the pandemic.

“This is to supplement that lunch program, since more than 80 percent of our students rely on those free and reduced lunches,” Johnson said, adding that closest grocery store is more than 40 miles away. “Our community’s distance from the grocery store makes it even harder.”

Calling it the Cuyama Valley COVID-19 Relief Fund, the community is initially trying to raise $8,960 through a kindest.com campaign. The Federal School Lunch Program allocates $2.50 per meal for students, and the goal raises enough money to provide one meal a day for 256 kids for two weeks. As of press time, the relief fund had raised a little more than half of its goal, $4,610. 

That’s one way to ease hunger pains. Sadeghian said another idea to provide some sort of weekend meal is still in the early planning stages. She said they’ve heard other areas are providing frozen meals that families can pick up, several at a time, potentially paying for what it cost to make. But with everything happening so fast over the last couple of weeks due to the pandemic and state and regional attempts to delay the spread of coronavirus, Sadeghian said they are just trying to take it one step at a time. 

“There are too many things we’ve been hit with right now, so trying one-by-one to get through it,” Sadeghian said. “The next thing we are trying to work on is can we come up with a family lunch or a family dinner that would be for a family of four at cost. ... Hopefully, we will be able to get donations, whether it’s from produce [or money].” 

Blue Sky and the Buckhorn will be using their food and produce connections as well as the Buckhorn’s kitchen and staff to prepare the meals, possibly even putting produce, staples, and recipes together for families to take and make themselves. 

Sadeghian and her partners have owned the Buckhorn for a couple of years now, and she said they’ve seen a need in their community and want to do their part to help. Although the Buckhorn was the group’s first foray into hospitality (they specialized in design and construction), Sadeghian said they quickly realized just how important the restaurant, bar, and hotel was as a community hub in the past. And they’ve worked to build that back up.


FED AND HAPPY
Cuyama Valley community members want to ensure that students in need get access to a second meal every weekday while schools are closed for the pandemic.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CUYAMA BUCKHORN

“It is our extended family now. It’s all very intertwined,” she said. “Our staffs are working in the kitchen. The next thing you know, their family comes there to have their meal.” 

Everyone in the community is doing their share, coming together to help, which is more than she can say for Los Angeles, where she’s currently stuck, Sadeghian said with a laugh. 

“We’re just trying to do our share of it and also, we are the one that has access to food, and we must,” she said. 

Blue Sky’s Johnson said it’s hard to have a thriving community if people are hungry. Food is necessary for survival.

“As a small community without centralized services, without government, without a grocery store,” Johnson said. “We really rely on one another.” 

They are starting to work with farmers and ranchers throughout the valley, and have been offered donations of staples like grain and potatoes so far. They’re just trying to figure out the logistics of how to get them delivered, which is hard with resources in the state, such as trucks, stretched thin as everyone tries to respond to the crisis. 

Another issue they are working through is community coordination. How to get the word out to residents in the area who may not have internet access, cellphone coverage, or cellphone data. 

“For a community that is so small and isolated, it is actually usally pretty hard to coordinate and it has been over the last few years, but this time ... ,” Johnson said. “Everybody sort of circles up in times of need and especially in times like these. Having that direct line of communication with community members and being able to reach people has been a huge strength.”

Savannah Fox, the Buckhorn’s marketing and operations manager, said they’ve also been coordinating with the Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center, which already relies on food distribution from the Santa Barbara County Foodbank multiple times a month. 

“Our main concern was making sure that that continues, but not only continues, but increases,” Fox said. 

Part of that includes figuring out who has the transportation, trucks and/or vans, to go into Santa Maria and pick up the food from the food bank and drop it off at the resource center, which can act as a supplemental food pantry, as well as coordinating grocery store and pharmacy runs into town. 

“We’re arranging hour by hour,” Fox said.

Reach Editor Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com








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