OCEAN PARK — Brussels sprouts are in season every fall, and an annual event is also sprouting this October — growing support for hunger awareness.

Registration for Westside Food Bank’s 24th annual 5K Hunger Walk is underway, with organizers hoping to raise $100,000 this year to help feed those in need. The non-competitive walk kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26 at Ocean View Park, 2701 Barnard Way.

Participants can start or join teams online, setting goals and sharing personal pages to begin raising money. Westside is currently about 15 percent of the way toward reaching this year’s goal.

Genevieve Riutort, Westside chief development officer, said unlike many walk-a-thon events, the 5K Hunger Walk is entirely free, making it easy for anyone to participate. She said the level of fundraising increased since switching to a no-fee registration about five years ago.

“It really is an equalizing event,” she said. “It’s the time of year when all members of our community get together – big donors and board members, but also our agencies and their clients, schools, families and businesses.”

At Westside, about half of the food is purchased by the organization and half is donated. Every dollar donated provides four meals, Riutort said. The organization buys food wholesale in truckloads, much like grocery stores, to get the best price. Westside also participates in the Farm to Family program, where California farmers donate produce they can’t sell.

“Every extra dollar means more food we can buy and distribute,” Riutort said. “It’s better than the dollar menu at McDonald’s. That’s why we exist. We can do more with that dollar.”

In 2014, the food bank will help feed more than 100,000 people. Almost half of that need is for local children. Most of the food is given to individuals and families through food pantries that provide free bags of groceries.

Westside board member and volunteer Jocelyn Cortese said her son Jack, 16, was “horrified” when he was younger to hear about other kids who didn’t have anything to eat after school. Now, he is consistently one of the leading student fundraisers for the walk, she said.

“The walk has a different flavor every year,” Cortese said. “It moved down to the beach three or four years ago, that’s been a great spot. It’s always beautiful to walk on the beach, so why not make it your Sunday afternoon activity and be part of this important community event?”

As far as food donations, Westside is in need of high-protein food such as canned chicken and tuna, peanut butter and chunky soups, Riutort said. Those items are often more expensive, like foods that are low-sodium or gluten-free.

“We’d love nothing better than to be put out of business,” she said. “But it’s not going to happen any time soon.”

Riutort said in Westside’s 31 years the growth of need has been steady, but since the 2008 recession “it just exploded,” she said. There’s about twice as much need in the community now, she said.

Westside is also working to refine its nutrition policy, and expanding into virtual food drives for online donations. About 500 to 600 people are expected to attend the 5K Hunger Walk this year.

“This is such an important community event,” Cortese said. “Bottom line, hunger is prevalent and you don’t always know who is getting food assistance in your community. This is a great way to help raise awareness for something that’s sometimes a more hidden issue.”

To register for the Westside Food Bank 5K Hunger Walk or for more information, visitwww.westsidefoodbankca.org.

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