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‘Perfect storm’ of conditions increasing demand for local food banks

Foodbank Santa Barbara County
Bags of food wait to be distributed at a Foodbank of Santa Barbara County pickup location. (File photo)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- A variety of economic, health and meteorological conditions all happening at the same time over the past several months is causing a spike in demand for local food banks.

According to Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, residents are being hit with a "perfect storm" of ongoing issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation and winter weather, which are combining to strain household budgets.

"This year there are some additional challenges that the workforce is facing," said Judith Smith-Meyer, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County Senior Communications Manager. "We're getting deeper into the winter months, and every year at this time, we see seasonal dips in employment. Tourism goes down in the winter, so that means anybody in hospitality, hotels, bars, restaurants, work goes down in that whole industry."

Foodbank said the delicate balance that many families maintain financially is being jeopardized as they navigate through so many difficult problems at one time.

"The inflation issue is kind of sort the straw that's breaking some camels backs with the economic situation," said Smith-Meyer. "anytime there's inflation increases, utility increases, stuff like that, they really affect lower income households more deeply."

As a result, the need for its services has increased, with more people having to rely on food distribution.

"Demand remains high and we're expecting that to deepen as we get further into this," said Smith-Meyer. "The longer it holds in the pattern like, the more we see need go up. "

Much like in Santa Barbara County, the situation is similar in San Luis Obispo County.

"We're definitely seeing an increase in demand," said Branna Still, SLO Food Bank Development Director. "There's definitely an increase in need right now and we're not sure how long this need is going to be at this level."

Still added the rising costs of living is driving many people to distribution sites.

"Inflation is really hitting our clients hard in addition to other strains, said Still. "We're seeing an increase in prices for some basic commodities, eggs, milk, even things that are non-food items, gas, many of us have to commute to work, and so all of these extra financial burdens accumulate to be a larger strain for families that might be already suffering."

While both local food banks are experiencing a sharp increase in the need for their services, each emphasized they are still able to meet the demands of the community.

"The Foodbank is here for everyone," said Smith-Meyer. "If you have a sudden hiccup, a medical bill comes up, a car repair bill comes up, and you are right on the edge, plus inflation, or you've had work hours cut back, we are here for everybody."

"The SLO Food Bank is here to help and we're here for the long haul," said Still. "If anyone needs help, please don't hesitate to reach out to us."

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

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