Families in Santa Barbara County can get extra help with free lunches available during the school summer break
Family budgets are squeezed tighter than ever, especially in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties – which are two of the most expensive places in the country to raise a family, according to a recent study.
Two lunches are handed to a family at the Santa Barbara Public Library, who have arrived for the Picnic In The Park – run by the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
It’s one of a number of locations in the county where free lunch is provided for kids 18 and under. Today it’s crackers and cheese and ham, with milk, juice and carrots.
"Today we are giving Lunchables but they get barbecue chicken sliders, salads, fajitas, chicken, so it's a variety of cold meals that we are giving," explained Jacqueline Valencia, the Director of Programs and Education at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
Valencia says that inflated grocery prices, along with the expiration of pandemic EBT, means family budgets are stretched even further, especially over the summer months.
"What we do is that we are filling in the gaps where the school districts aren't able to do the summer feeding sites so we are really just trying to provide meals to those families that aren't enrolled in summer school or simply don't have the funds to have a lunch meal," said Valencia.
Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties are two of the most expensive places in the country to raise a family – according to a Smart Asset survey this week. So far, says Valencia, nine weeks into the program, they have served 24,000 lunches.
For parents here, the opportunity for their kids to receive a free, healthy lunch is welcome- and for many others, it’s critical.
The program is now required for children to eat their lunches before leaving, and not take them with them. Although for kids like 6-year-old Lewis and his 4-year-old brother Titus – who are tucking in to their Lunchables - they don’t know the policies, just that they’re enjoying a fun carpet picnic lunch.
"Now families have to stay and eat versus during COVID families were able to pick up the meal and go which was a convenience to a lot of working families," explained Valencia.
There are no income requirements to participate, and all children under the age of 18, regardless of immigration status, are encouraged to attend the service – which, as well as providing the lunches, offers nutritional education through books and games.
Details on the Picnic in the Park locations and times can be found here.