“Our vision is that no one goes hungry in Los Angeles County.” So reads the vision statement of the LA County Regional Foodbank. Simple, right?
The vision may be simple, but the work of the Los Angeles County Regional Foodbank is anything but. Started in 1973 by Pasadena resident Tony Collier in a two-car garage, the non-profit organization has grown to accommodate the weekly delivery of one million pounds of food to LA County food pantries. That's the equivalent of about 750,000 meals. From January to April of this year, the LA Foodbank has seen a 31% increase in people served over last year, and while a precise figure isn't available, the Foodbank estimates that 12% of those receiving food are doing so for the first time. The Foodbank estimates that 1,000,000 people, or one in eight, in Los Angeles County are at risk of hunger. And the folks at the Foodbank are doing their level best to feed them all.
The LA Foodbank obtains food from three main sources. Food industry donations made up about half of the food received in 2008, and can include local product, fresh produce and Feeding America (National Foodbank Distribution Agency) donations, salvage from retailers, etc. USDA Commodities make up the next largest source of food; food purchased by the Foodbank accounts for about 8% of food distributed. Once food arrives in the warehouse, volunteers inspect, sort and pack it, and it's either stored in the warehouse or packed for distribution. Distribution includes over a thousand local local charities, agencies and pantries, and sometimes individuals.
In addition to the agency/food pantry distribution, the Foodbank operates a number of other programs aimed at providing food to those who need it most. “Extra Helpings” assists agencies with obtaining prepared, perishable food for meal programs. The Foodbank's staff pairs restaurants, hotels, caterers and other donors who have extra food with nearby agencies who collect the food and use it to feed their clients. Two programs are targeted specifically to hungry seniors, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Brown Bag program, in which nutritious foods are set aside each week from the Foodbank inventory. Volunteers, many of whom are seniors themselves, arrive early every Friday morning to pick up the food and take it to 20 Brown Bag sites where they pack the food in grocery bags for distribution to low-income seniors.
Two programs provide food to hungry children: Kids Cafe™ “Power Pack” Snack Program and Summer Food Service Program, which addresses the need for nutrition as well as quality day and after school care in low-income communities. Healthy meals and snacks are served to needy children in a safe, nurturing environment. Children in Kids Cafe™ also receive tutoring assistance, participate in sports, and benefit from mentoring. Recognizing that for some low-income children, school lunches represent their main meal of the day, the BackPack Program provides a backpack full of food on a Friday to provide nutrition during the weekend. The backpack typically contains enough food to share with other family members.
Julie Flynn, of the Foodbank's Communications Department says the greatest demands are for “fresh produce and protein items, like peanut butter, eggs, canned tuna, etc.” And since Los Angeles is home to many immigrant communities, culturally appropriate food items are also also in great demand.
The Foodbank is currently in the middle of a donation drive– “Skip a Lunch, Feed a Bunch.” Donors contribute ten dollars, which provides meals for 40 people. The Goodman Family Foundation has offered a matching donation, and will contribute an additional ten dollars for each ten dollars received by the Foodbank until September 30 this year. In part, this drive addresses the fact that summer is typically when donations to foodbanks across the nation decrease, but demand for food, attributed to children being out of school and thus, not getting school lunches and snacks, can increase. Last year, 78% of all children enrolled in LA's public schools were eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch programs.
The Foodbank, leveraging its purchasing power and reduced costs, can provide five dollars worth of food to the hungry for every dollar contributed. It's hard to think of any other way a single dollar could do as much.
You can get involved with the foodbank by donating, volunteering, or donating food. For more information on the LA Regional Foodbank and its programs and services, visit their website at lafoodbank.org.