First Community Food Access Center Kick-off Celebrates Building a Healthier Future

Nutrition Advocates preparing a healthy salad.

Sounds of people chopping vegetables, crunching tortilla chips and clanging pans filled El Camino Community Center in Lompoc on May 24 as dozens gathered around to learn how to make a healthy salad during the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s kick-off event for its first Community Food Access Center. Supported by the Santa Barbara Foundation, this Food Access Center is one of the Foodbank’s newest initiatives that aligns with the goals of the Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan - a two year community collaboration of actionable strategies and priorities to help build a more prosperous and resilient food system.

“The opening of this Food Access Center is a direct result of one of the priorities of the Food Action Plan,” said Erik Talkin, CEO of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. “If we can achieve food security on a local level through events and education, we can build community and motivate neighbors to look after each other, learn and turn to the Food Access Center as a central place in the neighborhood to come together.”

To facilitate this community change in the health and nutrition of food insecure individuals, the Foodbank will be hosting free programs every Wednesday. For example, the kickoff included a healthy salad demonstration and next week there will be a nutrition education class. The following week will feature a yoga class. Additionally, organizer of the event and development manager at the Foodbank, Lee Sherman, hopes to start incorporating financial literacy courses and a business incubator model to educate and mentor individuals who are interested in getting involved in local food-based businesses.

“We are so excited that today has finally come,” said Sherman. “There has been a great outpouring of support from the community and we are so grateful to our partners, who we share clients with, for helping us get the word out there and build momentum that we hope keeps going through the programs.”

The Foodbank’s partners that attended the kickoff included the Family Service Agency, Lompoc Valley Community Health Organization and Coast Valley Substance Abuse Treatment Center.

“The opening of the Lompoc Food Access Center is a testament to the long-standing collaboration between the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and the Healthy Lompoc Coalition,” said Ashley Costa, Executive Director of Lompoc Valley Community Healthcare Organization. “Weekly classes will help build a culture of health and will serve as a connection point with local offerings and support agencies. We are fortunate to have this resource available to Lompoc residents and look forward to promoting its use!”

The Foodbank has also partnered with community members through its Nutrition Advocate Training Program. The Nutrition Advocates are a group of volunteers that provide onsite support and guidance to visitors, and promote engagement and participation in the various programs and opportunities available to the community. Once the Nutrition Advocates go through the training process, they are equipped to lead and train other potential Nutrition Advocates, with the goal of establishing a community base within the Food Access Center.

“To have the Community Food Access Center be completely embedded in the community is so important to its sustainability and success,” said Sharyn Main, Senior Director Community Investments and member of the Food Action Plan Executive Committee. “It is a new approach to health and well-being that we can learn from and potentially use as a model for other centers in the future.”

While the Foodbank anticipates that the Food Access Center will benefit approximately 2,000 members throughout the year, the biggest success of the kickoff was the simple excitement and gratitude of the 86 individuals who got to share a meal together while learning how to live a healthier life that can lead to a healthier future.

“I am here for my kids,” said Rebeca White, a Lompoc resident who attended the kickoff. “I want them to learn good nutrition because that is something that I did not learn growing up and struggled with in my adult life. I want them to know what healthy is and I am thankful that I can find that opportunity here.”

For more information about the new Food Access Center, visit the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s website and for inquiries regarding Santa Barbara Foundation’s support of the Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan, please contact Sharyn Main at smain@sbfoundation.org.

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