Chef and Catering Entrepreneur, David Medina, Partners with Mental Wellness Center to Bring Nutritious Lunches to Local Residents Living with Mental Health Challenges
Just a few short years ago, David Medina was looking at a future much different from where he is now. He and a friend had a plan to open a new restaurant in Santa Barbara. The funding was confirmed, and the restaurant was about to get off the ground when the pandemic hit, shutting down in-person eating and effectively derailing Medina’s plans.
Fortunately, Medina wasn’t one to sit at home waiting for another opportunity to present itself. He still had a skill set, and people still needed to eat; he just needed to figure out how to get his food to them.
“I came up with this breakfast burrito idea. I would take orders and deliver the burritos the next morning,” explained Medina. “Then I got coffee shops on board who were reselling them. When things started re-opening, bars and pubs needed a food component, too, so we started a popup at a local brewery. Then gatherings were allowed again, so I started catering private dinners in people’s homes. Around that time, a good friend of mine connected me to Annmarie Cameron, CEO of Mental Wellness Center, who was looking for a chef for their Fellowship Club.”
Cameron and Medina felt a connection right from the start. Their mutual interest in ‘providing food to people who need it when and where they need it’ coalesced into an interesting working relationship of mutual benefit between Medina’s budding catering business and MWC.
Mental Wellness Center’s Garden Street location includes a fully stocked, commercial-grade kitchen which Cameron offered to lease to Medina. The idea was he would use the space for his catering business while also providing weekday lunches to MWC’s Fellowship Club members.
And the rest is history… “It’s only been a few weeks, but we’ve already seen an increase in Fellowship Club attendance since starting the healthy meals program,” said Medina. “Not only is food the anchor to draw more people back to the Club post-covid, but, with good nutrition at the forefront, Annmarie and I know that the food we serve will enhance their mental health and wellbeing,” adds Medina.
The menu for Medina’s Fellowship Club lunches is impressive, featuring balanced, nutritious gourmet meals like those he serves to his clients at formal, catered events.
Surprisingly, it’s the fresh fruit that’s had the most impact. “The response we’ve gotten is amazing. Members are so excited about watermelon, grapes, and pineapple. It seems so basic, but fresh produce is expensive, making it nearly impossible for some folks to access on a regular basis” says Medina.
“Mental Wellness Center had always strived to offer healthy food choices to its members, because we understand the dire effect that poor nutrition and food insecurity can have on a person’s overall mental health and wellbeing,” says Cameron.
Cameron patiently sought out just the right partner for Fellowship Club’s healthy meals program. “It had to be designed, planned, and executed well,” said Cameron. “I was offering an interesting opportunity that doesn’t exist in a lot of other venues; it required someone who not only had food prep experience, but also had the genuine desire to serve the community with dignity and respect. I’m thrilled we were able to find that in David.”
With David’s participation, Cameron wants to welcome people to the Mental Wellness Center and have a chance to break bread together, but like all good things, she is seeking out just the right opportunities. “Like all good recipes, some ingredients require a little more time to marinate. At MWC, we’re in the ‘marinating stage,’ contemplating all kinds of new and exciting ways to support the health and wellness of our greater community. “
Mental Wellness Center’s Fellowship Club, a Recovery Learning Center provides free peer-to-peer services for individuals in recovery from mental health and/or substance use issues. Services include peer support, advocacy, referral, education, art classes and creative activities. The Club is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and offers free on-site services to its members, including peer counseling, computer and telephone access, and, of course, nutritious lunches offered weekdays, from 11:30 am to 12:00 pm.
Since 1947, Mental Wellness Center has been fulfilling its mission of advancing mental health and wellness in Santa Barbara County, through the provision of three pillars of service to community residents of all ages experiencing and/or impacted by mental illness: 1) essential support and programming, 2) mental health education, and 3) safe, affordable housing.