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Coronavirus in Santa Barbara County: Foodbank gearing up for COVID-19 outbreak

Coronavirus in Santa Barbara County: Foodbank gearing up for COVID-19 outbreak

If the Central Coast experiences a COVID-19 outbreak, officials with Foodbank of Santa Barbara County expect the need for nutritional assistance will increase as self-quarantines, school closures and business disruptions reduce consumer activities, eliminate school lunches and leave workers without paychecks.

Foodbank officials said if that should happen, they have a plan to provide food to affected residents, especially seniors who may suffer greater impacts, but more volunteer help will be needed.

“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,” said Erik Talkin, Foodbank CEO.

“The Thomas [fire and 1/9 Debris Flow] disasters opened our eyes to the need to provide to those who shelter in place for any reason,” he continued. “The Feeding Plan equips us to respond quickly and effectively should imposed or widespread self-quarantine measures take effect in our area.

“We have partnerships in place throughout the county that will enable us to provide healthy food to residents at locations near their homes.”

While maintaining as many of its existing food pantries and partnership food distributions as possible, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is ready to open 20 to 25 additional neighborhood-level emergency food distribution sites, Talkin said.

To minimize potential exposure to coronavirus for those over age 70, who have a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, additional deliveries will be made to low-income seniors participating in Foodbank’s Brown Bag program.

In addition to those participating in the program, Foodbank officials are preparing to provide food to other seniors who are quarantined or sheltering in place, Talkin said.

If schools are closed, students will lose access to daily school meals, and Foodbank officials are planning to fill in those gaps by giving families good to prepare at home, rather than serving prepared meals at communal locations, to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus, he said.

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County will institute other measures to minimize the potential for transmitting the virus, including providing disposable protective gloves for volunteers and food recipients to wear during food distributions.

Those attending a distribution will be kept separated by six feet, and Foodbank clients may use appointments and drive-through pickups to minimize the exposure risk, Talkin said.

He said Foodbank staff also recall any food that was rescued from a retailer where an employee subsequently tests positive for coronavirus.

As part of its disaster preparedness, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County last month graduated about 50 staff, volunteers and nonprofit partners from Community Emergency Response Team training who can support emergency measures needed for providing food.

But Foodbank staff anticipates more volunteers will be needed to help prepack food bags and deliver groceries.

Anyone able and willing to help can contact Kate Newbury at to volunteer.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.

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