Emergency food needs are growing rapidly throughout the San Fernando Valley because of the deteriorating economy, social service agencies said Monday.
The holiday season usually brings an increased number of requests, but food lines are longer than last December, social workers said in an informal survey. The lines are swollen not only by immigrant laborers and single mothers on welfare, but by newcomers such as laid-off aerospace workers and homeowners pushed suddenly into the ranks of the unemployed.
Loaves and Fishes, a Van Nuys agency affiliated with Catholic Charities, has been providing emergency food packages to an average of 120 families daily, contrasted with the 60 to 80 families a day served during the same period last year.
“People are losing jobs at companies and stores,” administrator Laura Young said. “People are still coming from south of the border. There are a lot of homeless out there.”
In Pacoima, the first four days of December brought more than 1,000 people to Meet Each Need With Dignity, contrasted with 2,300 for the entire month last year.
Some of the food providers did not report dramatic increases in requests for help. But many said hardship has spread across socioeconomic lines. In addition to the working poor, families on government assistance and the homeless, volunteer workers have been shocked to see new applicants from their own comfortable suburban neighborhoods.
“We are getting a lot of people who used to be double-income families,” said Mary Lou Haney of Fish, a religious group that operates five food programs in the West Valley. She said the number of donations to families went up 25% at the Congregational Church of Chatsworth and doubled at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Canoga Park.
The new faces include former computer operators, defense industry employees and electronic technicians, and homeowners who recently lost their jobs and are struggling not to lose their houses, Haney said.
“These aren’t renters,” she said. “It’s the worst I’ve seen it in seven years.”
The precarious economic climate in the relatively affluent Valley reflects a regional phenomenon, according to Doris Bloch, executive director of the Los Angeles County Regional Food Bank. The private, nonprofit organization has fed an estimated 250,000 people this year with food distributed to 575 facilities around the county, an increase of 50,000 over 1989, Bloch said.
The number of outlets affiliated with the food bank, many of them churches or charitable groups, grew by more than 100 during the same period, Bloch said.
Both Bloch and Eugene Boutlier, director of United Way’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program, said the increased demand has hit food providers across a spectrum of neighborhoods, not just in traditionally poor areas.
On Monday, the appointment schedule at Lutheran Social Services on Sherman Way in Van Nuys was filled well through the week. Trinidad Valencia sat with her 2-year-old son on her lap, filling out an application at the direction of volunteer Vince Johnson. Her husband, Miguel Valencia, stood quietly in the doorway behind her, leaning forward to help answer questions.
The Valencias live with their six children in Pacoima, said Miguel Valencia, who made it clear that this was his first visit.
Valencia said he recently lost his job due to cutbacks at the auto body shop where he worked.
Next in line was Rudy Jui Kuenze, 34, a Guatemalan immigrant of Chinese descent who said he arrived in Los Angeles two weeks ago and is looking for a job.
News of the economic downturn in the United States has reached his country, Kuenze said, but he doubted that it will reduce immigration.
“They will keep coming,” he said. “It will always be better here than it is there.”