The Westside Food Bank (WFB) saw an unprecedented spike in need when the Covid-related stay-at-home orders first went into effect last year, and after regressing toward the norm during summer months, the demand is at extremely high levels yet again.
Over the past 19 months, WFB has distributed almost twice as much food as normal, as many new families required first-time assistance.
The local food bank generates 50% of their food income during the holiday season and is hoping to maintain the status quo to help with the very high level of demand.
“You know this is the time of year when people are thinking about giving, and we hope that folks will remember their local food bank, because we really are on the front lines of making sure that everyone in our community is getting through these difficult times with enough nourishing food to sustain their health,” Genevieve Riutort Deputy Director & CDO of Westside Food Bank said. “And you know we also look at our food as homelessness prevention, because you know people are having to make really hard choices about how they spend the funds that they have. So, if we can take the food equation out of the picture and make sure that people don’t have to spend their money on food, then that means they have more money to spend on childcare and all the other basic needs.”
WFB is responsible for supplying food to one-tenth of LA County and their services stretch from Inglewood to Malibu.
It’s hoping their 31st annual 5k Hunger Walk will help them keep up with the demand as well. A virtual event once again, the Hunger Walk kicks off Oct. 17, and runs through Oct. 24. Normally, more than 500 gather at the beach and everybody walks together. This year participants are suggested to walk with their families or their pod groups. It’s free to sign up to participate and donating is appreciated, but it’s completely optional.
WFB has also added several new agencies to their customer list, some of which are brand new organizations that have popped up in response to the pandemic. Others are organizations that existed but didn’t necessarily have food programs such as several of the local YMCAs, which have started to distribute food to their members.
The organization gets about half of their food from various donated sources and then the other half is purchased from the wholesale market. WFB is encouraging virtual food drives, which will allow the organization to allocate its time and resources more efficiently.
“If a company or a school or any group wants to set up a virtual food drive we can create a custom website for that and they can put their own images on there and branding and so we’re encouraging that because it really helps to take some of the burden off of our staff of going out and picking up physical food collections,” Riutort said.
The non-profit is also asking for items like breakfast cereal, granola and protein energy bars because those are really in high demand and expensive and challenging to get otherwise.
Riutort has worked at the food bank for over 17 years and her personal hardships kept her inspired to stay involved in helping the community.
“I’ve been on both sides of the food assistance equation and so for me it really is a personal issue. I grew up with a single mom who benefited from all kinds of social service programs including hunger relief and scholarships and after school care and childcare,” she said. “And then in my own life, there was a period of time where I was a single mom and I was going through a divorce, and I experienced both housing insecurity and food insecurity and I know what it feels like to be scared about how you’re going to feed your family, and I also know how it feels to get that sense of relief knowing that there is a safety net there and that the community cares to help people like me who were in a difficult situation.”
She said it’s really meaningful for her to now be part of that safety net, and to be able to let other parents get that sense of relief in knowing that they’re going to be okay and will reach the next phase of their life.
For information on donating or gaining assistance visit: https://www.wsfb.org/