Maryland Washington stopped by a South-Central Los Angeles church this week hoping to find food to help nourish her 10 children and grandchildren.
Instead, she came away empty-handed from Mercy Seat Missionary Baptist Church, where she usually receives free groceries. The 36-year-old was left with no choice but to ask friends and relatives for a loan to pay for a chicken for Wednesday night's dinner.
Washington is one of an estimated 10,000 families in Los Angeles County who have had to scramble to find food this week in the wake of flooding at one of the region's largest food banks. More than $415,000 in food was destroyed when Monday's relentless rains tore through the roof of the Genesis Food Distribution Network at 9411 S. Broadway and swamped its warehouse.
Now, the PNC Homeless Shelter, which supplies Mercy Seat Church and two shelters with food from Genesis, is one of 125 social service agencies left without a source of food for their weekly giveaways.
"This has created a problem for us," said PNC Executive Director Pat Archey. "We have a lot of people that depend on us. We're in an uproar."
The number of needy families who have gone without food could grow to 20,000--the total served by Genesis each week--if a replacement warehouse is not found today, agency officials said. "We can't receive any food because we have no storage," said Tracy Spratt, the food bank's executive director.
The Brotherhood Crusade, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church launched the Genesis network nearly three years ago in response to the 1992 riots. The agency receives the food it distributes from three larger social service agencies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency's administrative office has found temporary headquarters at the African American Unity Center at 944 West 53rd St. But the facility is too small to store the hundreds of cardboard boxes that the damaged warehouse used to hold.
"We need to find a space," Spratt said as she surveyed the rain-soaked storage facility Thursday. Molding oranges filled soggy plastic bags and dank bread loaves were rotting in a pile. "You can't give people something you wouldn't take yourself," she said.
The agency's front office fared no better in the deluge. An inch of water stood in potted plants in Spratt's office and the carpet sloshed with every footstep.
While agency staff members searched for temporary storage space, James Barber stopped by the washed-out facility hoping to find supplies that survived the torrent.
"We depend on these people for food," said Barber, who coordinates donations for the Shekinah West home for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in North Hollywood. Shekinah supplies three meals a day to 93 recovering alcoholics and drug abusers and relies on the Genesis network for most of its food.
"I came down here looking for food," Barber said. "Now I've got to find a new place to go. We're in jeopardy."
Spratt referred Barber to a food bank in Garden Grove and told him he was welcome to anything in the warehouse that was still usable.
"We'll just have to make do with whatever we can get," Barber said as he walked out with an armload of Kaopectate diarrhea medicine and a case of fruit punch.
For social service provider Mary Henry, the swamped warehouse has meant no food for 200 needy recipients at the nonprofit Avalon Carver center on Avalon Boulevard, which helps the homeless and other needy people.
But while she is searching for a substitute food bank, Henry also plans to help the Genesis network however she can. "I've been talking to Genesis to find out what we can do to get them back on their feet and whatever that is, we'll do it," she said.
Meanwhile, Washington sits in the living room of her well-kept duplex and wonders what will happen when her pantry is emptied over the weekend.
"I don't know," she said. "I'll just have to manage."