Chef Michael Voltaggio said working at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank was a humbling reminder that too many people in Los Angeles go to bed hungry each night because they don't have enough food.
"It's disturbing to think of how many people go without," Voltaggio said. "I'm glad I can do something small to help out."
Voltaggio joined actress and cookbook author Valerie Bertinelli, as well as fellow celebuchefs Ludo Lefebvre, barbecue king Adam Perry Lang, author Lucy Lean and dozens of others who spent the morning sorting good fruit from bad, and then packing it up for shipments to food pantries throughout Los Angeles.
Such physical volunteer work is crucial to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which relies on the kindness of 32,000 volunteers a year to keep the operation running.
"Without the volunteers, our work would come to a halt," said spokeswoman Jennifer Errico, adding that it was great to see such a strong turnout from Los Angeles' food scene bright and early Saturday morning. "We could never hire enough people to cover 32,000 volunteers a year."
The food bank welcomes groups, individuals and companies that want to volunteer for a morning or afternoon shift. "We've had people come out and work for their birthday parties, and bachelor parties. All their friends come out and help," Errico said.
The food bank serves more than 1 million people a year, she said. Volunteer opportunities also include putting together packages for the Friday afternoon "backpack program," which sends 1,000 needy children home with enough food to last the weekend. And each month, more than 20,000 such care packages are put together for senior citizens in Los Angeles County who are at risk for going hungry.
In addition to looking for volunteers, the bank also welcomes donations. "For every dollar donated, we provide four meals," Errico said. She said the pantry is also always on the lookout for staples such as peanut butter, beans, rice, pasta and canned meats.
One out of every six people in Los Angeles County experiences hunger from a lack of available food, Errico said. "And it's not who you expect to be hungry," she said, adding that often it's the working poor. "It's people who have families but they just can't get through the end of the month."
Bertinelli said she was grateful to Stougaard for organizing the event, and raising awareness about hunger. "Too many people are going without," she said.