Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 44
A Child Hunger Corps member helps fill the ranks at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County
BY AMY ASMAN
In the fall of 2011, Emory University student Emily Altman travelled to Chile to do some independent research on the country’s school food program.
“I grew up loving food, and I had started to get interested in nutrition and the issue of food insecurity,” Altman told the Sun in a recent interview.
Food insecurity has to do with the limited availability of, and access to, food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a household is considered food-insecure when its occupants live in hunger or fear of starvation.
Using her data from Chile, Altman went on to write her honors thesis on the connections among food, health, childhood nutrition, and food insecurity. When she graduated, she decided she wanted to address those same issues at a domestic level.
That’s when she found Feeding America’s Child Hunger Corps, a national service program that places corps members for two years at food banks across the country to help fight child hunger.
“[The Child Hunger Corps] perfectly aligned with my past interests,” Altman said.
And it turned out that Altman’s skills matched up perfectly with the mission of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, which underwent a lengthy and competitive grant process in order to hire one of the six corps members serving from August 2013 to August 2015.
The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Altman said, “was the best fit” because of its focus on childhood nutrition literacy and fresh produce.
Since she started last summer, the corps member has been working on a community needs assessment that will help the food bank determine which programs best feed and serve local residents.
“Food insecurity is a complex issue, and running programs to address that issue is even more complex,” Altman said.
According to the Foodbank, the child poverty level is extremely high in Santa Maria (39.4 percent) and Lompoc (48 percent), which means instances of food insecurity are higher too.
Those statistics, Altman said, “reinforce the need for the food bank’s work.
“They’re really troubling statistics, but they’re also really inspiring because they’re getting people motivated to help develop programs that address childhood hunger,” she said.
The food bank has numerous “community impact” programs designed to put food in stomachs, including an after-school snack program and the Picnic in the Park program, which provides children with free summer lunches. Altman is expected to help expand these programs to reach more children.
“The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has definitely been a leader in the food bank realm, as far as child programs,” she said.
Bonnie Campbell, the food bank’s director of community impact, said Altman’s work—along with the efforts of other employees and volunteers—will help increase support for the organization’s 300 partnership agencies, which help deliver food and services to the community.
“It’s such a great honor to have [a Child Hunger Corps member] because this is a highly competitive national grant paid for by the ConAgra Foods Foundation,” Campbell said. “Emily was the only one placed in California, which speaks to the high-quality work that the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is doing.”
She said Altman’s community needs assessment will identify specific neighborhoods in need of food assistance and will be “used as an enduring template to sustain our programs.”
A corps member is especially valuable, she said, because unlike a volunteer who might come in for a week to help sort food and then never come back, Altman is guaranteed for two years.
“The Foodbank is thrilled to have someone as bright and focused as Emily joining our efforts to end hunger and transform the health of our communities through good nutrition,” food bank CEO Erik Talkin said in an e-mail to the Sun. “During the short time she has been with us, she has already demonstrated an excellent understanding of our mission and ability to engage with the complex issues underlying our work.”
But, then again, Altman is only one person. The food bank wants to involve as many people as possible in its mission.
To ensure that the volunteering experience is fulfilling for local residents, the food bank has started something called the community leadership role.
“Our community leaders are pretty much super volunteers,” Campbell said. “They help in every aspect of the work we do.”
The food bank matches its volunteers with work they’re most qualified to do, whether it’s data collection, program leadership, food delivery, warehouse sorting, or administrative work.
Campbell said her organization is always in need of volunteers, especially now that there are plans to expand its programs to reach more children. There are also plans to forge stronger relationships with the health-care community to improve families’ quality of living through diet and nutrition.
“We want to teach families how to buy healthy food, how to grow it, cook it, taste it, like it, and make it part of their lifestyle,” she said.
Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at aasman@santamaria sun.com.