Wednesday, September 28, 2022     Volume: 23, Issue: 30

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 15th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 7

Driscoll's donation to Santa Barbara Foodbank came when community needed it most

By Malea Martin

Residents of Santa Barbara County are no strangers to overcoming disasters—but as reflected by statistics from the Foodbank, what the county faces now is unprecedented.

Patrick Sheehy’s father and uncle (pictured) were among the early generations of his family that worked with Driscoll’s to establish commercial berry growing in Santa Maria.

“We served healthy, nutritious food—from January to March of this year—to 85,000 individuals,” Judith Smith-Meyer, marketing communications manager at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, told the Sun. “As opposed to January to March 2019, it was 51,000, but there was a government shutdown taking place during that time, so those are also elevated numbers. Then the prior year, 2018, we served 37,000 during that same period—and that was the Montecito debris flow and the residue of the Thomas Fire disaster. So it’s hard for us to say what a normal January to March is.”

The COVID-19 crisis is also extra challenging because it impacts the entire county, making it difficult for the Foodbank to keep up.

“The debris flow and Thomas Fire was primarily a South County challenge,” Smith-Meyer said. “The government shutdown, though it did affect the entire county, was overwhelmingly felt in North County, like Lompoc where the penitentiary or Vandenberg is. But this is across the board: There are unprecedented numbers of people who have never had to make use of Foodbank services before.”

Thankfully, the story gets brighter. On April 9, Driscoll’s, a prominent berry-growing company, announced a $100,000 donation to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. Smith-Meyer said the money couldn’t have come at a better time. 

“It’s a huge endeavor to respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” she said.

Even outside these times of crisis, Driscoll’s has a long history of supporting the Foodbank, and an even longer history in the Santa Maria community.

“They are what we call ‘hunger relief champions,’ which means they donate many tens of thousands of pounds of fresh produce to the Foodbank every year,” Smith-Meyer said. “So this is like an extra, super-gesture of support from Driscoll’s.”

Patrick Sheehy, a fourth-generation grower who retired in 2018 after 42 years of growing with Driscoll’s, told the Sun a bit about his family’s history in the region. The company’s story in Santa Maria starts in 1944 when founder Ned Driscoll was looking to expand the growing season. The Driscolls teamed up with the Sheehy farming family to try growing in Santa Maria, where commercial berries hadn’t been tested before. 

“Santa Maria had three things that you need for strawberries: You have land, you have water, and you have a labor force,” Sheehy said. 

Almost eight decades later, Driscoll’s continues to grow in Santa Maria. 

Sheehy’s family involvement with Driscoll’s continues on a global scale: His son works in the Driscoll’s supply chain in China, and his daughter works with the company’s Los Angeles branch in public relations. But despite the worldwide reach that Driscoll’s has, Sheehy said the company makes a point of supporting communities in a localized way. 

“They want to be part of the community,” Sheehy said. “It’s in their value statements. … Eighty-five percent of Driscoll’s revenue goes back to independent farms.”

The Foodbank spent $250,000 in food purchases since the start of its COVID-19 response—more than double what is typically spent in a month—and Smith-Meyer expressed that the impact of Driscoll’s gift is truly indispensable. 

“We have had a longstanding and appreciative relationship with all that they do for the community as far as helping people get healthy food on an ongoing basis,” Smith-Meyer said. “It’s a huge gift for us.”

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