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With healthy recipes and cooking demos, local Food Bank is helping people eat better

by Amanda Hollingworth
April 05, 2018
Fresh produce is bagged and given to community members to take home for healthy recipes.
The Food Bank of Santa Barbara County isn't just providing food for community members, the organization is also making sure folks are armed with healthy recipes and cooking techniques to help make sure that more families are eating right.

Running out of food before pay day is a grim reality for some of our neighbors. Many also feel they have no choice but to buy cheap, unhealthy options that might eventually lead to expensive, life-threatening conditions like diabetes.

This is where the FoodBank of Santa Barbara County makes a difference. They opened the Alma Cena Sana Center last May in Lompoc’s El Camino Community Hub.

More than a simple food distribution site, The FoodBank created it with the vision of encouraging long-term healthy habits and nutrition for the community’s food insecure.

In their first year, the program served over 2,200 people in the Lompoc community —many of whom walk from the surrounding neighborhoods.

Health starts with education, so with every bag of produce, volunteers include recipe cards for easy and balanced meals.

“We’ve seen people who didn’t know what to do with certain things, like an eggplant of a sweet potato, because they had never seen one before,” said Anne Barkett, Community Programs Coordinator.

Anne receives a list of items that will be included in that week’s distribution and searches for appropriate recipes.

Sonia Sandoval, Healthy Neighborhoods Coordinator, puts on demonstrations to show how easy it is to make delicious and nutritious meals at home. She recently described the ingredients she mixed together into a large bowl to the crowd gathered in front of her. With help from the audience, she spooned portions of the flavorful black bean and corn salad into paper bowls and passed them throughout the crowd so everyone could have a taste. The demonstration food is delicious and — most importantly — it features the ingredients that everyone will be taking home.

Open Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m., the Alma Cena Sana Center provides an essential service to the health and well-being of the community. The program includes cooking classes, nutritional and wellness education and exercise demonstrations in addition to the food distribution.

They also coordinate with local organizations like Allan Hancock College, Lompoc Valley Medical Center and others to present information on health, education and life skills. Since many clients attend the program with kids in tow, the Center organizes activities and kid-friendly recipe demonstrations to spark an interest in healthy habits.  

The Center wouldn’t be open without community support. Local organizations like CoastHills have been longtime supporters of the FoodBank’s annual fundraiser, Lompoc Empty Bowls, which played a major role in getting the project running.

The FoodBank is always in need of volunteers to assist with the Alma Cena Sana Center’s food distribution program, and they also welcome donations of all kinds — both new and used — especially toys, crayons, children’s books, and coloring books.

For those outside of Lompoc, the organization has a number of volunteer opportunities in their other programs around the county. Besides operating food distribution centers, they deliver brown bag lunches to seniors, work with local farmers to gather leftover produce, partner with local grocery stores to reduce waste, and operate emergency food programs when disaster strikes. They also participated in community activities, such as Lompoc’s 2nd Annual Health Eating Active Living Wellness Fair, to provide information on their services as well as general nutrition.

Those interested in learning more can contact Volunteer Coordinator Lori Bailey.

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