Food from the Heart Celebrates with Sips and Nibbles

Fundraiser Benefits Its Food Program for the Ill and Injured

Board Chair (and volunteer) Kelly Onnen, Chef Aaron Casale, and Executive Director Sharon Byrne.

Gail Arnold

Board Chair (and volunteer) Kelly Onnen, Chef Aaron Casale, and Executive Director Sharon Byrne.

On April 13, a sold out group of 150 supporters of Food from the Heart gathered for its fourth annual Sips and Nibbles in El Paseo at Margerum Wine Company, Au Bon Climat, Grassini Family Vineyards and the Wine Cask Restaurant. While the event was a fundraiser, it felt more like happy friends having a fabulous party. There was donated wine pouring freely in all three tasting rooms and copious, delectable donated appetizers from the Wine Cask Restaurant, Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro, C’est Cheese, and Chocolate Gallery, alongside creations from Food from the Heart’s own professional chef, Aaron Casale.

Founded in 1994, Food from the Heart provides high-quality, nutritious, tasty food to homebound individuals suffering from an illness or injury in Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Isla Vista. With a lean staff of four part-time employees and a core group of 50 regular volunteers (and many more occasional volunteers), Food from the Heart prepares and delivers a bag of food each week to 158 clients free of charge. According to Board Chair Kelly Onnen, the organization’s name reflects all the love that goes into each bag of food.

Most clients are referred from medical agencies, with many coming through Hospice of Santa Barbara, the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, Cottage Health, and Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care. Clients can self-refer, in which case the vetting is more extensive to ensure a legitimate need. The current waitlist is short, but varies throughout the year. The organization does triage, ensuring that the most needy always receive food.

Most fruits and vegetables are donated and harvested by a team of volunteers lead by Tom Urban, who shared that no property is too large or too small to harvest. Last year, Urban and his team harvested 54,000 pounds of produce. Veggie Rescue in Santa Ynez also contributes produce that it harvests.

Food preparation is done three mornings per week under the direction of Chef Casale at Trinity Lutheran Church, which has donated its kitchen and fellowship hall space to the organization for years. The food is high-quality, nutritious, and both visually appealing and tasty. Onnen explained that many of the clients have poor appetites, so making the food appealing is critically important.

Another group of volunteers delivers the food each week. Each bag of food contains enough for at least four days and includes soup, an entree, a baked casserole, a couple of salads, a bag of fruit, dessert, and fresh bread (donated by Panera Bread, Our Daily Bread and D’Angelos). The drivers visit with clients and some assist clients with chores on separate visits. These volunteers, just like the harvesters and food preparers, truly have a lot of “heart.”

Unlike most organizations, Food from the Heart does not need volunteers. Onnen, who has been with the organization for 15 years, shared how because its work makes such a difference in the lives of its clients, the volunteers really enjoy the work and many stay with the organization for years. The organization is, however, always in need of cash donations and fresh produce donations. For more info, go to

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