The Santa Barbara County Food Bank is kicking off its annual holiday food and funds drive today, helping local community members in need during the holiday season.

The Food Bank’s drive will run from Nov. 1st through Dec. 31st. Local organizations and shelters, including Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter, will help distribute the donations.

According to the Food Bank’s development associate Gina Fischer, this year’s goal is to raise 10 million pounds of food by the end of the drive.

“Every year we have gotten better. We are trying to [get] … almost a million pound increase from last year,” Fischer said. “Five years ago we did not even have one million pounds of produce. We can easily make the mark, but we need to keep the quality of food we distribute. We do not carry soda and we are cutting back on candy distribution.”

Fischer said each dollar raised is equivalent to nine dollars in purchasing power for the food bank.

“We are able to stretch a dollar so far because of our purchasing power,” Fischer said. “We can buy in bulk. We can get nine dollars worth because we have a farm to family program. We can stretch the dollar in lots of ways. In feeding America, they have a national market we can use; it is all about purchasing power.”

According to a press release, their drive will feed over 155,000 Santa Barbara County residents in need. Fischer said the program supports people on both a short and long-term basis.

“Some might have only received a couple of things through a program, some might need just a month, but some are in chronic need; a lot of them are seniors. Need always increases in the holiday season.”

Fischer also said the recession has affected the amount of people who require short-term assistance from the food bank.

“Poverty will lag 12 to 18 months after a recession,” Fischer said. “People need food assistance when they are still getting on their feet for another two years. That assumes that the recession is over and people will find jobs. “

Although the program does provide meal-by-meal relief for individuals and families, Fischer said the goal is to work toward positive long-term results.

“Homeless need more than just food; we offer some kind of service. Food is used to get people through the door.”

Fischer said any food or monetary contributions from individuals and organizations are welcomed.

“If something is time sensitive, we may not know what do with it, but we still accept it. We [primarily] want cans and other nonperishable items. Food like bread is on our shelves for less than 24 hours.”