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Foodbank Preparing for Possible Local Impacts of COVID-19 Outbreak: Focus on Nutrition for Families and Seniors

Countywide Disaster Feeding Plan will guide emergency food distribution planning and implementation

March 12, 2020 (Santa Barbara, CA) – The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is actively preparing to ensure the nutritional health of all residents of Santa Barbara County should a COVID-19 outbreak take place in our communities.

In light of the anticipated continued spread of COVID-19, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and leading health organizations and healthcare providers, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County along with Feeding America, the nationwide network of food banks, is actively preparing to meet the nutritional needs of all county residents as local impacts unfold.
The Foodbank is prepared to accomplish its mission to provide healthy food for all who need it, even in the case of multiple complicating factors likely to arise with coronavirus affecting local residents.

Such complications could include dramatic increase in need throughout the county due to imposed or mass self-quarantines, school closures, disproportionate impacts to seniors, and widespread secondary economic effects for those who lose work and income as a result of changes to business practices, reduction in consumer activity and other economic impacts.

“The Foodbank developed the Disaster Feeding Plan in collaboration with disaster and emergency response agencies in the government, education, health care, education and nonprofit sectors to ensure everyone in Santa Barbara County can be fed in case of a large-scale disaster,” explained Foodbank CEO Erik Talkin.

“The Thomas disasters opened our eyes to the need to provide to those who shelter in place for any reason. The Feeding Plan equips us to respond quickly and effectively should imposed or widespread self-quarantine measures take effect in our area,” he continued. “We have partnerships in place throughout the county that will enable us to provide healthy food to residents at locations near their homes.”

As part of its disaster preparedness initiative, the Foodbank graduated about 50 CERT-trained staff, volunteers and nonprofit partners last month, who will be ready to support any emergency measures needed to support community nutritional health.

In addition to emergency-trained volunteers, Foodbank staff anticipate the need for volunteer support to increase, including volunteers to help prepack food bags and deliver groceries. Community members who are able and willing to help, may contact Kate Newbury at

While maintaining as many of its existing food pantries and partnership food distributions as possible, the Foodbank is preparing to open 20 to 25 additional emergency food distribution sites that will make healthy groceries and fresh produce accessible at the neighborhood level.

Of particular concern is ensuring our senior population has enough healthy food, and that they receive it in ways that minimize any risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In addition to the low-income seniors who already participate in the Foodbank’s Brown Bag program, the Foodbank is also preparing to serve other seniors who are quarantined or sheltering in place.

Another demographic of concern, and which the Foodbank is ready to support, is K-12 children, who would lose access to the daily nutrition they rely on from school meals when their schools close. As in previous disaster situations that involved school closures, the Foodbank is prepared to fill gaps left in children’s need for healthy food.

To minimize risk of community transmission, measures to provide needed food to school children would likely involve providing groceries and fresh produce for their families to prepare at home, rather than offering prepared meals served in communal locations.

The Foodbank is temporarily suspending its children’s nutrition education programs (Food Literacy in Preschool, Kids Farmers Market, Teens Love Cooking and Food Creativity Lab) to limit community transmission of the virus, and allow us to devote key resources to ensuring the entire community has enough to eat during mass quarantine.

As part of its role as a resource for nutrition knowledge to the entire community, the Foodbank has published a Guide to Recommended Foods to have at home in case of disaster. Lacey Baldiviez, Ph.D, a nutritional biologist and the Foodbank’s director of community education and programs, developed the guide to broaden the scope of commonly held ideas about foods to have on hand for sheltering in place.

A meal-planning and recipe guide is forthcoming.

To maximize safety at food distributions, the Foodbank will implement rigorous protocols that will include, but are not limited to, providing disposable protective gloves to all volunteers and food recipients to wear while participating in a food distribution.

Social distancing will be integrated into distributions so that attendees at food pantry sites will remain separated by 6 feet to reduce risk of community transmission. Social distancing may also be achieved by an appointment system or drive-thru pick-up options.

In the case of the Foodbank’s Brown Bag program for seniors, social distancing would include additional home deliveries to address the higher risk to persons over 70 of severe infections.

The Foodbank will follow food safety guidelines, in addition to normal best practices, as established by Feeding America, the nationwide network of food banks. These guidelines are informed by an abundance of caution and include, among many other protocols, recalling any food rescued from a retailer should an employee of that retailer test positive for COVID-19.

Local updates and recommendations regarding COVID-19 are available from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

About the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County
The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is transforming hunger into health by eliminating food insecurity through good nutrition and food literacy. The Foodbank provides nourishment and education through a network of more than 300 nonprofit community partners and more than 1,500 volunteers. In Santa Barbara County, one in four people receive food support from the Foodbank, which equates to more than 190,000 unduplicated people, 40% of whom are children. Last year, the Foodbank distributed 10 million pounds of food – nearly half of which was fresh produce. The Foodbank is assuming a major leadership role in countywide disaster preparedness with initiatives including disaster food boxes, disaster feeding plan, establishing a new south county warehouse and updating our trucks for safer food storage and transport. For more information, visit

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