Event raises more than expected for the Santa Barbara County Food Bank
The Santa Barbara County Food Bank’s Lompoc Empty Bowls event made a triumphant return this week after a three-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 400 attendees, along with a variety of local sponsors and donors, came together to share a meal Wednesday and raise more than $60,000 that will go toward maintaining and expanding food bank services in Lompoc.
“We had budgeted to raise $45,000, so we raised a third more than we expected,” Judith Smith-Meyer, senior communications manager, told the News-Press. “The community and our sponsors really came together to make the event a huge success.”
Event attendees at the Dick DeWees Community Center were treated to a meal of gourmet soup donated by local chefs served in custom hand-painted bowls provided by Allan Hancock College, Lompoc Valley Middle School, Santa Ynez Valley Community Outreach (formerly known as the Buellton Senior Center) and the Vandenberg Spouses’ Club. People were able to take bowls home as a reminder of the fact that hunger still exists in our society.
The event also featured a raffle, silent auction, custom succulent plants for purchase, bowl-making demonstrations, and entertainment provided by Santa Maria native DJ Suz.
Also in attendance, serving meals to event attendees, 2nd District County Supervisor Gregg Hart, 3rd District County Supervisor Joan Hartmann and Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne.
As well as offering outdoor seating for the first time, Ms. Smith-Meyer described the event as “business as usual” except there was “a very jubilant feel to the whole event.”
“The mood was one of rejoicing to be together and support the community,” he said. “There was an extra high level of joy about it. Everyone missed it so it was a great moment when I was able to say how happy we were to be back and people walking through the door also echoed how happy they were to be back at the Lompoc Empty Bowls.”
Food bank donor relations supervisor Anna Boren said the last Lompoc Empty Bowls were scheduled for March 28, 2020 and were canceled at the last minute due to COVID-19 closures.
“Everything was planned and we were ready to go!” Ms. Boren said in a press release. “We were very disappointed to have to cancel at the last minute. That is why we are so excited to come together with the community this summer for Lompoc Empty Bowls.”
The money raised from Wednesday’s event is expected to go a long way in helping the food bank’s many programs dealing with nutritional literacy and food distribution, the latter of which came under enormous pressure. during the pandemic and is still above pre-pandemic levels.
“We are not serving as many people or distributing as many pounds of food as we did during the peak of the pandemic. That (need) was really unprecedented and will hopefully never happen again,” said Ms. Smith-Meyer. “The numbers started going down earlier this year.
“But then we saw another spike in May, where the numbers went back up and have stayed at that level” due to rising food, gasoline and housing costs caused by inflation and international discord, he said.
The Santa Barbara County Food Bank is also looking to expand its focus on homeless populations.
While it has long worked with partner organizations to distribute food to the homeless, the food bank intends to take a more direct role in the distribution process through a variety of measures, such as creating food packages that they do not require refrigeration or the use of a kitchen to prepare.
Along with homeless populations, the food bank is also expanding its services to active and retired service members through the use of a monthly mobile food pantry at Vandenberg Space Force Base. That program is in its third month of providing food distribution services.
“We really want to reach out to active duty service members and veterans and make sure they have what they need,” said Ms. Smith-Meyer. “They are in service to all of us, so we definitely want to make sure they can have access to all the healthy foods they need to stay strong.”