The Westside Food Bank, together with its partner agencies, is reporting a significant increase in the need for food assistance. Meals on Wheels West, for instance, has seen an almost two-fold rise among seniors and other homebound individuals.
Moreover, St. Joseph Center, which operates one of Westside Food Bank’s largest partner food pantries, says that they’re seeing families who used to access their food pantry 10-15 years ago returning since they can no longer meet their households’ basic needs amidst rising inflation and other financial pressures.
“There’s a myth that we’ve been trying to overcome – that the height of the need was during the height of the pandemic. And that’s just not what we’re seeing. We’re actually seeing that the crisis is now in terms of hunger,” says Genevieve Riutort, President and CEO, Westside Food Bank.
The Santa Monica-based food bank has expanded its service over the past three years in direct response to the increase in need. Now, inflation is affecting the wholesale price of the foods it buys in bulk while funding from both public and private sources has decreased.
“We try to provide free food, so that people can use their limited resources to stay housed, because we want to keep families in their housing,” Riutort says. “Because that’s really what’s driving the crisis, it’s new people who are falling into homelessness that’s causing a huge surge in the numbers. So we’re trying to prevent that from getting even worse, but we’re struggling because people think that there’s not a need anymore and we haven’t been getting as much support.”
According to the food bank, the trend is particularly prevalent among families with children and Riutort herself comes from a low-income household, growing up in the Bronx in New York with a single mother. She joined the Westside Food Bank 19 years ago when she was a struggling single mum, consequently she understands this tragic situation better than most.
“I was living on government subsidy programs and not able to support my family. It was getting a job at the food bank that put me on the path to stability and not needing food assistance or housing assistance anymore,” Riutort says.
When pandemic-era CalFresh food benefits expired in March 2023, individuals lost up to $82, while families lost up to $300. This comes as families are still adjusting to the loss of $300 per month per child after the Additional Child Tax Credit ended last year. At the end of April 2023, the eviction moratorium was suspended, which means local households now have to pay off back rent, further straining their budgets while the cost of basic needs is rising. In March 2023, Westside Food Bank distributed a record 501,319 lbs of food, the highest monthly distribution in its 42-year history.
“But food banks can’t do it alone,” Riutort says. “We’re part of a system and we need the community to support us to recognize that this is an ongoing crisis. I think COVID really shined a light on how much food insecurity there already was and it’s just getting worse.”
To support the cause, you can make a donation to Westside Food Bank by visiting wsfb.org/donate. Because of the en masse manner in which the Westside Food Bank buys food, a $1 donation is equal to four meals. Plus, throughout the month of June, all monetary donations will be matched by the Johnny Carson Foundation, effectively doubling the amount that could potentially be raised.