Continued Support

By on May 14, 2020 in Giving

(Part one of a three-part series highlighting the efforts of food banks during COVID-19.)

If there is a silver lining in any crisis, it could be that we have the chance to better prepare for the next emergency to come.

In Yardi’s hometown of Santa Barbara, that has been the case for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County (FSBC), which used the lessons of the devastating Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides of 2017-2018 to create a comprehensive disaster feeding plan. It includes widespread cooperative response from local agencies, nonprofits and medical resources, as well as ways to ramp up supply quickly and get food directly to people at home.

Photo credit: Jacqueline Pilar for Foodbank of Santa Barbara County

That plan has come into play in a major way over the last three months, as the Foodbank saw its demand and food outlay double simultaneously nearly overnight due to the impacts of COVID-19.

Always a supporter of the communities in which its offices are located, including during the Thomas Fire, during the last three months Yardi has committed funds for hunger relief services across North America. This week, the real estate software leader announced a second round of donations for the food banks it supported in March.

“We are pleased to be able to provide another round of funding to food banks across North America that are doing such crucial and outstanding work during this time, including right here in our hometown of Santa Barbara,” said Sally Parks, vice president of human resources at Yardi.

We recently caught up with Judith Smith-Meyer, marketing and communications manager for the FSBC, to learn how the organization is responding daily on a local level to the current crisis.

“We worked really hard in the development of this disaster feeding plan to make sure we had strong relationships at every level to be ready. But because that plan was in place, our partners that we had been working with came forward right away. It’s not easy, but we had a plan, and it’s working,” Smith-Meyer said.

By the numbers

The FSBC provided food to 85,000 individuals during the first quarter of 2020, compared to 57,000 for the same period in 2019 and 37,000 in 2018.

As of May 10, it had distributed 3 million pounds of food since March 9, with half of that fresh produce. Normally, in a full year FSBC would distribute around 10 million pounds.

“To distribute 3 million pounds of food in two months is unprecedented compared to any kind of disaster we have encountered,” Smith-Meyer said. Luckily, supply channels and donations have so far been able to keep up with the enhanced demand.

“We have been making use of all of the pathways that we know of to source food. We have great ongoing relationships with farmers and growers across the county, as well as local businesses who have seen the need and donated during this time,” Smith-Meyer said. They have also received financial support from companies like Yardi that enables the purchase of additional supplies, typically at pennies on the dollar compared to normal retail cost.

Adapting to the times

With the shelter-in-place orders and social distance requirements, FSBC quickly adapted to conduct food pickup and distribution safely. The organization relies on volunteers and is thrilled that citizens who are able have continued to donate their time.

Photo credit: Jacqueline Pilar for Foodbank of Santa Barbara County

“We lost a lot of volunteers because seniors have had to stay home, but it’s really beautiful to see all the people who are out of work right now and want to come out and help. We’ve had a lot of people volunteering because they were receiving services for the first time and wanted to give something back in return,” Smith-Meyer said.

Their efforts have been supplemented by a unit of 20 National Guard troops who were assigned to FSBC in March and have now had their service extended through the end of May. They have been vital in making at home deliveries to seniors as well as picking up donations and moving food donations into warehouse storage in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria.

Other local businesses and non-profits have stepped in to share their vans and drivers, such as Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, Easy Lift Transportation, Clark’s Pest Control and many more. So far, 10,000 home food deliveries to seniors have been made.

A donated software platform, Route4Me, has been instrumental in making the delivery routes to seniors seamless to execute. More than 20,000 seniors countywide receive supplemental food from the FSBC each year, but without the ability to pick it up at a senior center or other location, a delivery plan was one of the first priorties.

“All kinds of things are happening that enable us to do this job. It would not be something the Foodbank could do by ourselves. We’re just so grateful for all the assistance,’ Smith-Meyer said.

One ongoing volunteer opportunity is for more drivers to deliver food to seniors in North Santa Barbara County. If you have time to help and are able to drive a route, learn more on the FSBC website.