Hungry for Conversation? Meet Talk-o-Truck

The truck modeled after a vintage LeMont, an old French bread truck, is easy to spot. For starters, it’s pink. Not Barbie pink, mind you, but that doesn’t stop women and men alike from inquiring about the vehicle. Conceived in Argentina, imported to Miami, and shipped to Santa Barbara, Talk-o-Truck isn’t actually a truck; without a motor, it’s officially registered as a trailer that has to be towed to get anywhere. And it’s actually not a place to grab your favorite carnitas and beer. 

Talk-o-Truck delivers stories.

A mobile recording studio set to amplify the voices of marginalized people in and around Santa Barbara, Talk-o-Truck is a “safe place where people can share their story,” said Sarah Abrams, executive director of The Starfish Connection.

Trucks - Hungry for Conversation? Meet Talk-o-TruckInside The Starfish Connection Talk-o-Truck | Photo: Maia Hinton

Since officially launching earlier this year, Talk-o-Truck has participated in events such as Earth Day, Mujeres Market for International Women’s Day, and a Mother’s Day event in Paseo Nuevo. The team partners with like-minded, purpose-driven organizations, asking volunteer storytellers to answer questions around a theme. More often than not, one simple question leads to a larger story about hopes, dreams, and life.

The truck is the latest branch of The Starfish Connection, a new nonprofit startup “dedicated to building thriving communities by empowering individuals and fostering connection through crisis funding and community storytelling,” according to their website. “Everyone has a story,” Starfish Connection Founder Virginia Benson Wigle said when we met at the organization’s home office in Old Town Goleta.

Community storytelling and crisis funding might sound like an odd pairing — and even as I sat with the team, it took a second for them to explain the connection — but eventually, it all came back to the story of Wigle and her late husband, John. Virginia and John’s dream had always been to combine their life experiences to foster connection. “The two ideas are so divergent,” adds Abrams, “but are both foundational to Virginia and John.”

Inspired by John’s belief that making a difference for one can impact all, the nonprofit’s name itself stems from an excerpt from John’s favorite Loren Eiseley poem, “The Star Thrower.” Like the poem, the Starfish Connection’s work is all about helping one person at a time. 

“We don’t have a singular purpose, so we can serve any need that meets our criteria,” Abrams said. “It really gives us the opportunity to serve a broad spectrum of people.” 

That, and all within 24 hours of the request, chimes in Wigle.

Yes, you read that right. The truly miraculous thing that happens with this all-female, four-person team is that all decisions are made within 24 hours. That’s truly a testament to their dedication to their core principles: that “everyone is seen, heard, and honored.”

The organization’s primary focus is in providing crisis funding to people facing sudden financial crises. In partnering with regional nonprofits (ideally “smaller, community-based nonprofits,” said Abrams), the team is able to identify clients already in the system who are in dire need of immediate assistance.

Trucks - Hungry for Conversation? Meet Talk-o-TruckHelping to build awareness of The Starfish Connection | Photo: Maia Hinton

In their collaborations with local organizations such as Hospice of Santa Barbara, Mental Wellness Center, LEAP, and Hearts Aligned, applications aren’t just vetted upon submission, but are done through the initial step of partnership. “We meet with the partner and we get to know their programs really well,” says Abrams. “[Once] all of that foundational piece is already done, by the time [an application is filled out], they’re relatively certain we’re going to fund it.”

Unlike state-run or federally run programs that might offer one-time assistance or monetary stipends, the Starfish Connection deals directly with the vendor, says Program Coordinator Sophia Lake. From their robust website of testimonials, that can be anything from a grad school payment to securing hospice care. So, if a family needs a comfortable space for their child undergoing chemotherapy, for example, the Starfish Connection will go directly to Wayfair.com and buy a sofa. 

“We’re not going to solve the world’s problems by one approved crisis funding application,” Abrams adds, “but for that person receiving it, it’s just a deep breath. And sometimes that deep breath is all [one] needs to pivot, to see clearly, [and] to move forward.”

Like “The Star Thrower,” the Starfish Connection is all about giving just one person at a time a moment to exhale. And when you give someone that moment to breathe, the organization invites everyone back to share their story — whether it’s through their community storytelling project, Our Story Connection, or Talk-o-Truck. “We’d love to hear your story,” says Abrams, “because there’s somebody else just like you.”

Sometimes it’s an act of sharing a story, and sometimes it’s financial support, but the Starfish Connection is all about offering something that’ll transform a life. According to Wigle, “To witness someone’s story, and be in that moment with them, is the biggest gift to give someone.”

Come see the Talk-o-Truck at the Juneteenth block party celebration on Saturday, June 15 from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. at 100 Gray Avenue in the Funk Zone. See thestarfishconnection.org/communitystorytelling.

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