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Summer Meal Program Keeping Thousands Of Kids In Santa Barbara County From Going Hungry

It’s lunchtime, and some kids are heading to a concert in Santa Barbara’s Bohnett Park. While the music is fun, the real star of the show here is the food.

About forty kids are here in the park on Santa Barbara’s Westside, taking part in a free meal program intended to make sure that no kids in Santa Barbara County go hungry this summer.

One of those on hand for the lunchtime event is someone better known for his work in Hollywood, Academy Award winning actor Jeff Bridges. He says one in five kids in the county is experiencing food insecurity, which means they don’t know if they will get food to eat.

The longtime Santa Barbara County resident is a spokesman for “No Kid Hungry,” a nationwide campaign to try to connect kids with the food they need to grow up healthy. 

In Santa Barbara County, there are more than 50 locations this summer where kids can go to get free breakfast, lunches, and snacks.

Laura Capps is a “No Kid Hungry” volunteer. She says the program is celebrating its seventh anniversary in the county. This year, with concerns about the potential for immigration raids in the news, Capps says they’ve tried to let families know the events are safe. Some of the participating families have undocumented members.

Today, though, fun is the order of the day. In one corner of the park next to the Westside Boys and Girls Club, a Santa Barbara School District food truck is dishing up lunches. Minerva Valdez is the food truck’s manager, and says they are dishing up healthy fruits and vegetables.

Federal funding supplemented by donations make the countywide program possible. School districts, the “No Kid Hungry” campaign, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, and Boys and Girls Clubs are also among the participants.

Because it’s a walkup program, the number of kids fed each day during the summer can vary widely, but the efforts organizers say the number is well into the thousands.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.