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Groups Form Regional Coalition to Combat Hunger

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 30 representatives of social service agencies held a workshop last week to try to answer one question: How can groups and organizations in West Los Angeles work together most effectively to end hunger on the Westside?

After a four hours of discussion, they decided to form a regional coalition to coordinate activities, lobby legislators and serve as a focal point for referrals.

The Westside Shelter Coalition, which serves in a similar capacity for homeless agencies, was chosen as the coordinating agency for the new group, which has yet to give itself a name.

John Suggs, coordinator of the Westside Shelter Coalition, said his group welcomes the added duties.

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“Exciting energy and ideas came out of the workshop,” Suggs said. “The group will allow us to organize and delegate and form subcommittees to deal with hunger issues.”

The assembled group of social service providers--including representatives of Delancy Street Foundation, Westside Food Bank, Ocean Park Community Center, Regis House and St. Joseph Center--participated in a workshop last week organized by Food for All, a nonprofit corporation that raises and distributes money to groups that feed the hungry.

The workshop began with group members suggesting 22 ways they could better deal with hunger on the Westside. That list was narrowed to six, and included establishing a directory of agencies, developing a team of lobbyists, and including clients on agency boards and in the decision-making process.

The group also noted obstacles to its goal: the public’s perception that providing services makes people more dependent, misconceptions about the gravity of the hunger problem, and a growing weariness among the public that is discouraging donations and volunteers.

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The group then developed an action plan that includes lobbying Congress on behalf of the Mickey Leland Memorial domestic hunger relief bill, which is named in memory of the Texas congressman who died in a plane crash last year while delivering food to Ethiopia. The bill is designed to provide more food stamp benefits for the needy and allow some tax relief for poor people.

Other components of the plan call for publishing a newsletter reporting proposed legislation that would affect poor people, developing educational programs in nutrition and health, and regularly updating directories of available social services.

Bruce Rankin, executive director of the Westside Food Bank, said the new coalition will allow agencies to concentrate on providing services while participating in a joint effort to fight hunger regionally.

“This is a chance for all of us to keep up with things that are happening in legislation, new opportunities for funding and eliminate duplication of services,” Rankin said.

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Vivian Rothstein, executive director of the Ocean Park Community Center, which oversees a network of shelters and other services, said the new group will “bring new energy to the Westside Shelter Coalition.”

But she added that until people nationwide start realizing that hunger is a serious problem, no amount of coalition-building by social service organizations is going to help.

“People are very fragmented by economic classes. They don’t interact,” Rothstein said. “On the local level we can raise the consciousness, but the problem is really at the state and federal level. One community cannot solve the problem of poverty by itself.”


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