Storytelling Spotlight: Santa Barbara Food Bank

Santa Barbara

This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP) completed for WhyHunger’s digital storytelling website, Community Voices, that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: Santa Barbara Food Bank, CA. Story and pictures by David Hanson.

Elisa had never heard of free food. That’s not why she came to America with her two young boys, age ten and twelve, from Jalisco, Mexico. She heard about jobs and opportunities for her children to be educated and move up in life. So she came into the country and made her way to the central California town of Santa Barbara.

Elisa is a strong woman – no one who isn’t could survive her journey into this country. But she is a very quiet, shy woman. She had family to stay with in the small, bedroom community of Isla Vista, CA for a short time, but she soon found a job cleaning a house in a wealthy neighborhood of Santa Barbara so she moved her children into an apartment. This was the first time she’d ever had to pay rent. Back in Jalisco, she’d lived in a family house that they owned. She was making some money here, but America can be expensive.

A friend at church told her about the monthly food bank distribution option. Bundles of produce, canned goods, dry products and dairy were distributed at the church. She said, “Gracias a Dios,” and she stretched it over a month to feed her family and save money for bills.

Old Town Goleta is a tight-knit community, mostly of Latino descent. The small, affordable homes and old apartments cluster within striking distance of the area’s jobs – agriculture to the north and service jobs in homes and hospitality to the south.

Like any small town, word spreads fast here, which can be good or bad. On the bad side, there’s a local sense that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is always lurking, and the wrong kind of word can get you or a family-member deported. So there’s mistrust and fear, especially around signing up for government programs. But there are advantages to a tight-knit, word-of-mouth community and the ground-level, extended-family-to-extended-family communication element can be a powerful tool to incite communities to organize around healthy food.

Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

Kristina Erskine