Friday, December 23, 2011

Feeding the People

Good-bye Gaffers & Sattler Oven
Good-bye 50-year-old sleek modern design, 
sans bells and whistles
Good-bye burnt cookies, perfect briskets, dry chickens, 
and one dripping experimental octopus concoction. 
Good-bye my lovely old oven, 
I will miss you more than you can imagine.

Reluctantly, I must say good-bye to my old wall oven this holiday season. Two appliance guys (I won't mention any names, but DO NOT use York Appliances, they are idiots!) broke it and it can't be fixed because it's so old. Looking for a new oven brings unwanted revelations: for one, gas ovens aren't made in this size anymore, and two, the new electrical ovens have push button components, not even real clocks or knobs. 

But who am I to complain? We are still eating, we are still cooking on our stovetop (which is also 50 years old), we still have food in the pantry, unlike a lot of people— unlike the 1.7 million that go hungry in Los Angeles County every year.

Looking out onto E. 41st Street from inside the Food Bank

Last week, I visited the LA Regional Food Bank to research a story, and the statistics are staggering:
•1 out of every 6 people in LA county experiences food insecurity (i.e., a missed meal at least once a week).
•The Food Bank distributes 62 million pounds of food yearly, reaching a million people. That's 700,000 meals on the table weekly. Although food distribution has increased 70% in the last 3 years, food acquisition bottomed out this year, causing some food pantries to run out of food or close their doors. 
•The Food Bank provides after-school and summer lunches to 2,200 children, bi-weekly fresh fruit and veggies to 3,100 and weekend backpacks full of food to 1,275.
•For every $1 donated, the Food Bank provides 4 meals.
•100 on staff and 24,000 volunteers yearly. These guys are amazing!

A warehouse full of food.

Volunteers pull food from warehouse shelves... 

...and sort donations into boxes for pick-up by various agencies.

I was lucky to have Carole Tremblay, LA Food Bank's chief development officer, show me around and talk about the Food Bank's recent efforts: new incentives for fresh fruits and veggies with less dependency on commodities, color coding to help people make healthier choices, raising funds for Backpack and summer lunch programs and staying steady in this economy. We sat down later and discussed politics versus putting food on the table (i.e. Wal-Mart funded the summer lunch program). Given the Food Bank's volume, food on the table wins out every time.

Carole Tremblay viewing less than perfect apples donated to the Food Bank

As I was ending my visit, I noticed a barren lot directly across the street, home to the former South Central Farm (also known as South Central Community Garden), at one time the biggest urban garden in the U.S. In 1994, the LA Regional Food Bank was granted a revocable permit to develop the land as a community garden. Through the hard labor (and love) of the community, the garden grew, but in 2006, owner Ralph Horowitz evicted farmers in a dramatic reversal, involving hundreds of community members, the Mayor, the City Council, lawyers, injunctions, protests and bitter fallout on both sides. Today, those 14 acres of land where a Garden of Eden once bloomed lie fallow. The irony alone could kill you.

As I drove away I thought about what Carole had said at the beginning of my visit: "People think that Christmas is our busiest time of year, but that's not the case. We don't really slow down—there's the same need every day of the year." 

Please support the LA Regional Food Bank.

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