SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The weekly long lines at the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County and other distribution sites is a sign of tremendous ongoing needs during the pandemic.
The supply of food commodities is ever-changing due to demands, shortages and unstable costs. Currently some items are not meeting the needs.
At a recent distribution in the parking lot of the Franklin Center in Santa Barbara, bags had sweet potatoes, oranges, onions and tomatoes. Some of the other items were either not available for now or out of season.
The cost of rice, for example, has risen substantially in the last year. Wheat prices have also had a sharp increase.
Across America, the Food Bank demands have increased to a level not seen since the last depression years.
Last year some sites were running low, and community donations plus drop-off efforts of surplus neighborhood food, back filled.
Even though some people are returning to work, they may not be getting full time hours. Personal finances are still not solid enough to meet their monthly needs.
"As the corona pandemic goes on longer and longer that becomes impossible for people, " said Food Bank of Santa Barbara County CEO Erik Talkin.
He says currently they are facing a "commodities cliff." That basically means, "the commodity items we get from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are drying up at the moment."
That's expected to go on for a couple of more months.
"So we are currently having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase food that we can't get donated," said Talkin.
Recently at the Santa Barbara Franklin Center location where three pallets of food would arrive, it was only about a third of the delivery.
Ricardo Venegas is a City of Santa Barbara coordinator at the Franklin Neighborhood Center on the Eastside.
"We have definitely seen the supply go down," he said. "We try to make it so that everyone walks away with something, so they don't walk away empty handed."
Talkin said, "typical food that get from the USDA which might be canned vegetables, might be rice and other staple items are just not coming through."
At times farmers have been given additional financial help from the USDA to grow more crops specifically for food distribution programs as part of a nationwide answer to the food insecurity problem.
In 2020 at many sites, the government program was funding growers and distribution companies assisting the Food Bank sites including The Berry Man Inc. produce business. Hundreds of boxes each week were handed out under the contract authorized in an emergency rollout fashion by the government.
This also created renewed work for employees who were sidelined due to the economic downturn.
As for the projections ahead, Talkin said, "no matter what happens with the speed of vaccination we know it will take people a long time to get back on their feet. People are going to be spending money on rent and other items and they are really going to need help with food.
The Feeding America anti-hunger program says four in ten people are first time recipients of food assistance.
The Associated Press says in the third quarter of 2020 distribution was up 57 percent from a year earlier.
Santa Barbara County has found itself in a better place with a large agricultural base, mainly in the Santa Maria Valley. Many growers participate with Food Bank programs.