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Taking It to the Bank

Since its inception in 1973, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank--the largest food bank in North America--has distributed nearly 350 million pounds of food. As executive director, Doris Bloch oversees feeding 200,000 people a week through 750 charities--a daunting task, given that U.S. Census Bureau figures show that one in three kids in L.A. County lives in poverty; the national average is one in five.

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Q: How did you become involved with the food bank?

A: I consciously decided that work to help people was for me, but when I first interviewed for the job, I didn’t even know what a food bank was. That was 15 years ago.

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Q: How does it work?

A: We obtain food from the ground up, so to speak, from brokers, wholesalers and resalers, farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Q: Do you augment what’s donated?

A: Yes, right now we’re getting ready to buy a semi-load of baby formula--we’ve been very short on that.

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Q: What’s the biggest threat to the food bank?

A: The food that used to be donated to us is being sold more and more to companies like 99 Cents Only, and salvage companies who sell it for whatever they can get. It started a few years ago. It had moderate impact on us at first, but it’s become more and more severe.

Q: So you used to receive a lot more food?

A: Oh, my goodness, yes!

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Q: What about junk food?

A: It’s a real problem we always deal with. We give out both. We actually buy things to increase nutrition--rice and beans, eat them together and it works as a protein, and doesn’t violate anyone’s religious taboos.

Q: The food bank has a garden . . .

A: The urban garden. It is literally an outgrowth of the civil disorders of 1992, and our dedication was the day of the second Rodney King verdict. I was tired of all my relatives calling and asking if I’d been shot.

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Q: Any strange donations?

A: Once a man asked if we would accept green chicken soup. They had used parsley powder instead of parsley flakes and everything turned green. Another time a food broker called and said they had a lot of Vegemite. It’s not the most enticing color.

Q: It doesn’t smell great either.

A: We had to do a lot of hyping it up.

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