VENTURA ( — A local organization is helping working families struggling to make ends meet by partnering with food banks and restaurants to treat them to a pleasant dining experience.

The group Food Share is partnering with food banks and restaurants in Ventura county, along with a nonprofit group called One Family – One Restaurant, to help these “food insecure” families enjoy a meal out.

“In Ventura right now, one in six of our clients are hungry, food insecure,” Food Share’s Cecilia Perez said. “That pretty much means one in six individuals are actually not sure where their next meal is going to come from.”

People who have struggled to that point of food insecurity have said the meal provided by the partnership is more than just food on a plate. It helps to restore a confidence lost over time through financial struggles.

“When you’re in a situation that feels like you’re stuck, there are small things that can give you a boost of confidence, and one of those, especially with family, is to be able to go out and enjoy a meal,” client and single mother Pixie Kastrup said.

One Family – One Restaurant works through donations from the public made through the group’s website, in which donors can select a restaurant to sponsor a meal. The local food bank then matches that donation with an individual or family registered through the program, who can then redeem that meal at the restaurant.

“We tell them ‘Just go in there and enjoy your experience, and have a great time’,” group-creator James Panagoti said. “Their response is ‘This is almost too good to be true.’ ”

Panagoti and his family started One Family – One Restaurant after donating funds they raised at their family owned pizzeria.

A Himalayan restaurant owned by Anup Rimal was the first to participate in the program. Rimal describes the experience as care-free for the sponsored family.

“You can come in, you don’t have to tip, you don’t have to pay sales tax, nothing,” Rimal said. “Just enjoy the meal with family.”

“When (Panagoti) was trying to explain it, I’m like ‘We’re in’. I know this is going to be a great program.”

More than 400 meals have been served since January, and the program has conveniently generated business for 18 participating restaurants. Plans are in the works to expand throughout Southern California, and possibly beyond.

“Every country has restaurants, every country has food-insecure people,” Rimal said. “It’s just connecting those two dots within your own neighborhood.”

People who have been helped through the program, such as mothers like Kastrup, say they hope those in need seek out help to improve their situations.

“When I first heard about One Family – One Restaurant, I was really excited about the possibility of supporting families that are food insecure. With the confidence that can come out of it, they can move forward.”

For more information on One Family – One Restaurant, visit their webpage here.

You can find out more about Ventura County’s food bank at their website.

Find the nearest food bank in your area at the Feeding America website.