Jacob Mansbach was in second grade when he first heard a staggering statistic: One in four people in his hometown of Santa Barbara, California, are food insecure. He took a look around his classroom at the 32 faces of his eight-year-old peers, and it hit him: Eight of those kids could potentially go home to a barren pantry or an empty refrigerator. Eight of them might not have had dinner last night. Even at such a young age, Jacob felt called to do something. He needed to see that one-in-four number shrink, to make sure that kids and their families wouldn’t have to worry about where their next meal came from.
As it turned out, the Santa Barbara Triathlon had chosen a local food bank as its beneficiary that year. Jacob, eager to follow in his triathlete father’s footsteps and compete in the race (“I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” he said of witnessing the competition), took it upon himself to set a pair of goals: He would finish the triathlon. And he would raise $4,000 for the food bank.
With the help of his community and his parents, Mike and Jennifer, Jacob crushed both of those goals. And then he kept going. He continued to fundraise for the food bank and complete the Santa Barbara Triathlon, year after year. As the calendar flipped from 2012 to 2021, as Jacob grew from a tiny kid with a spray of freckles on his nose to a lanky teen with braces, he kept at it. Alongside his parents, he started his own charity team, Join Jacob. His brother Joseph, younger by two years, jumped in, ultimately becoming his co-pilot in all things fundraising and his training partner in triathlon. The Santa Barbara Triathlon became a mainstay in the Mansbach house—and so, too, did their work with the food bank.
In the of summer 2021, as the Mansbach brothers trained for the much-anticipated return of the Santa Barbara Tri (it was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19), they found themselves closing in on a major milestone. After a decade of dedicating hours of their free time to fundraising for the food bank, Team Jacob was about to give away its one millionth meal in Santa Barbara County. Not only that, but the team’s collective funds raised over the years was nearing the $100,000 mark. The Mansbachs felt a strong sense of urgency to hit those targets in 2021, not because of a desire to garner attention or kudos, but because the meals and money were needed more than ever.
“COVID-19 has led to triple the need for food assistance in our county,” Jacob said. “Many of those who need food are children. Because of COVID, we weren’t able to actually be in the food bank as much as we used to, but we were still aware of the growing need.”
The boys spent time over the summer putting together a video detailing their target and their decade-long relationship with the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County, which they sent out en masse. And then, they watched the donations roll in. $100 here. $500 there. Even a $10,000 anonymous donation. By the fall, they surpassed their initial goal of $100,000, eventually exceeding more than $125,000. To make the experience even sweeter, Jacob and Joseph placed first and fourth, respectively, in their age group in the short-course race at the Santa Barbara Triathlon.
The fundraising milestone—and the age-group win—are fitting bookends to Jacob’s impressive childhood journey: He is graduating from high school this spring and plans to step away from Team Jacob once he goes to college, leaving Joseph to carry the torch. But that’s not to say he’s walking away from trying to solve what he calls a “big pressing problem” in his community.
“I don’t know how at this point, but eventually I want to pour my own resources in and find a way to end childhood food insecurity,” Jacob said.
Affable, well-spoken, and whip smart, the Mansbachs show maturity and wisdom beyond their years. But they say when it comes down to it, they’re just “normal” teens who still like to play video games and hang with their friends—they’ve just figured out a way to do it all.
“We can fundraise, we can train for triathlons, we can still have fun,” Joseph said. “Honestly, I think most kids do have enough time to do what we’re doing. It’s just the work ethic involved. You’re going to have to work at it to get things done, but it’s not impossible.”
For more on the Santa Barbara County Food Bank, go to: foodbanksbc.org