Bethania volunteers honored to serve community for over a year

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Every Tuesday dozens of volunteers, some affiliated and some not affiliated with the Lutheran Church in Bethania, are there, rain or shine. Photo by Raiza Giorgi

Despite COVID-19 vaccines and lifting restrictions, the need for food and supplies remains great

By Raiza Giorgi

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What the volunteers thought was just a few weeks of hardship has now passed the one-year mark as people still struggle to make ends meet during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I was scared the first week that no one would come after we had received a lot of food donations,” said Elizabeth Breen, a volunteer with the Bethania Lutheran Church weekly food distribution. “Boy, I’ve never been wrong, and week after week we see a majority of the same families and others who are barely managing. COVID aside, there is a great need for assistance here and we will continue to make sure that happens even after all restrictions are lifted.

Every Tuesday dozens of volunteers, some affiliated and some not affiliated with the Lutheran Church in Bethania, are there rain or shine to distribute food and other essentials like diapers, wipes, sanitary napkins and hope.

Sometimes the queue twice wrapped around the church building and spanned another street of people waiting to find food and supplies.

Juan, whose last name is not disclosed, has started coming to Bethania with his wife and 1 month old daughter, and they come almost every week when the restaurant he works at is not closed.

“I don’t know where we would be without Bethania and all these great people helping us,” Juan said. “Fortunately, we live as a family, otherwise we probably would have had to move out of the region.”

In the first week, Bethania served 64,407 people with an average of 320 households per week, according to volunteer Linda Marzullo.

Marzullo keeps track of all the numbers as they are required by several of the food distributors to count and make sure they have enough for everyone.

“The majority of people who come are usually from the hospitality industry and there are some who are homeless and mostly from the valley,” she said. “We receive people from Lompoc and field agents from Santa Maria.”

The highest number of households served was in week 19, with 413.

The Santa Barbara County Food Bank recently released its one-year statistics with 19,549,119 pounds of food distributed in the county from March 9, 2020 to March 8, 2021. The previous year, the food bank distributed 9,708,944 pounds. of food.

“More than usual of the total food we distributed was provided to community members in the South County,” wrote Judith Smith-Meyer, communications manager for the food bank. “Normally, the northern county receives 75 percent of the total food distributed in the county. Over the past year, 37 percent of the food we provided to the community has been distributed in South County. ”

Check out the list of places available for county residents to pick up food.

“We have a lot of people who come looking for other families who don’t have transportation or who are themselves quarantined. You would think that since there are vaccinations now, they would start to decrease, but they don’t, ”Breen said. “The need was there even before COVID, especially with the housing and rental market being so high here, people are barely getting by.”

Volunteers prepare bags of food to give to families in need at the Lutheran Church in Bethania. Photo by Raiza Giorgi

The average rent in Santa Barbara County is $ 1,660 according to the Numbers Department, and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Solvang is $ 1,800, according to the Numbers Department. RentCafe.com. Houses cost between $ 3,000 and $ 5,000 depending on the area of ​​the valley and the size of the land.

“The rental market is booming, and I think as a community we need to take a serious look at affordable housing and its lack here in the valley,” Breen said.

Breen said they were in constant contact with People Helping People and the Small Business Administration and other resources to help people tackle not only food insecurity but also unemployment and find loans and support. subsidies.

“People are just told they have to go online, but a lot of people don’t know how to navigate government websites or can’t log in because the library has been closed for a while and the computer access was not available, ”Breen said.

Breen said that although people struggle and have to come every Tuesday to eat, she is happy to see them and many have become friends with the volunteers and friends of the church.

“We also have the opportunity to celebrate milestones with people, we threw a little party for a little girl who just turned 6 and we gave her some gifts and a treat,” said Breen.

There are over 60 volunteers who now work in two shifts to collect all the bags in the morning and then those who distribute them in the afternoon. There is a walk-in line and a drive-thru line. Santa Ynez Valley Union High School’s AVID students also come weekly to volunteer and help with distribution.

Food is donated to Bethania weekly from various sources such as the US Department of Agriculture, Santa Barbara County Food Bank, Veggie Rescue and the church spends approximately $ 2,000 per week from donations to supplement with canned meats and other products such as diapers, wipes, toilet paper, paper towels and laundry detergent.

The church is also home to the Solvang Blessing Box, which is filled and emptied more than 10 times a day. There is another blessing box in Buellton located in the parking lot at Crossroads Church which is also refilled several times a day.

“We are so grateful to the community who regularly come to donate food and other essentials to their neighbors,” said Breen. “It’s a grassroots movement and I’m very grateful to everyone who comes together to help others.”

Breen wanted to push those who needed to come forward, and the rumors about the food stopping being dispensed were not valid.

“We will be here as long as there is a need,” she said. “Even when the COVID restrictions are lifted and people can return to work and school full time, we will still be there for people. It might look a little different by a line every week, but we’ll be there. ”

For those interested in making a donation, visit www.bethanialutheran.net and click on Donate. Make sure the Food Distribution tab is also clicked.

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