Safe Passage Foundation

Food Share is partnered with a network of 190 pantry partners and agencies that operate across the county. One is Safe Passage Youth Foundation, founded in 2012 by Tim Hagel, an educator and the Former Chief of Police for Thousand Oaks and Fillmore. Safe Passage provides youth mentoring and hunger-relief programs for K-12 grade kids and their families. The organization is committed to providing equal access to education and to helping ensure that vulnerable kids avoid the lure of gang recruitment.

We spoke with Tim Hagel as he led a Saturday morning food distribution and vaccination drive in Newbury Park.

What does Safe Passage do?  

Tim: Safe Passage is a youth mentoring program. Gangs start recruiting kids in elementary school, but the paradigm for community policing for nearly all community anti-gang programs was high school kids. There was a huge uptick in gang activity and gang warfare between different sides of town, and this neighborhood was the epicenter of gang recruitment in Newbury Park. There were multiple murders right here, as recently as five years ago. I realized that whatever we were doing for the last 30 years in policing didn’t work. You can’t keep locking up 16-year-old boys, because then they go to prison and that becomes their finishing school. So we incorporated a lot of great minds and we came up with the idea to use the gangs business model, not a policing model. The gang business model has survived longer than nearly all fortune 500 companies. Why? They provide security, friendship, self-esteem, and affirmation. They distract young children away from early education, keeping them illiterate and dependent on the gang for knowledge. So, we realized that if we’re going to change anything, we’ve got to replace what the gang provides and give these kids a place to go and a sense of belonging. 

We currently have 370 kids enrolled in the program, which is totally free for them and their families. We’ve operated seven days a week even through COVID. The kids are walked to Safe Passage every day by volunteers, and then we offer them two hours of getting all their homework done, enrichment activities, physical play outside, and then around 5pm we provide what we call “lunner” – a cross between lunch and dinner. Then their parents come grab them from our facility here and another one on the other side of town. We also provide eight weeks of summer camp. Thanks to partners like Food Share, the Kiwanis, the Conejo Recreation & Park District and many others, the total cost per year to serve a child is just $1,250, which comes entirely from donations from community supporters. No child is ever charged a penny to attend.

What’s happening here today?

Tim: We’re out here every Saturday in Newbury Park, feeding around 250 families. We’re able to provide each family with a week’s worth of groceries. Each child also receives a hot meal, donated by a local restaurant. And today, we also have a vaccination center. We hope to vaccinate about 500 people.

Is hunger an issue for this community?

Just look at the lines! These are farmworkers and food service workers. They work really hard. Why would you stand in line on Saturday, your one day off, if you didn’t have food insecurity? They’re getting groceries and a hot lunch for their children. That’s allowing them to pay their utility bills for the month – and helping many people avoid a slide into homelessness. 

We’ve always had food insecurity. It’s just been one of those things that society has never wanted to talk about much. The pandemic has shone a light on it but it’s not going away any time soon. 

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