Area food pantries struggle as more families seek help

Rice and beans may be simple, but those pantry staples are essential for any family desperate to prepare meals on a meager budget.

David Cormier saw the value in those food staples firsthand when he was deployed to Bosnia and Somalia under the United Nations Peacekeeping forces. During his missions, U.N. representatives distributed rice to hungry families who often holding only cups to gather supplies.

Cormier later returned home to see many local families were also in dire need of food and struggling to stay afloat during the protracted recession. So he and the Glendale Kiwanis Club decided to join forces in 2009 to help feed local residents by supplying a ton — 2,000 pounds — of beans and a ton of rice four times a year to the Salvation Army Glendale’s food pantry.

On Saturday, Cormier and fellow Kiwanians delivered the massive rice and bean supply to the food pantry and repackaged it so it can be distributed to 1,400 families.

The substantial donation couldn’t have come at a better time for the nonprofit organization as it prepares its food pantry to deal the demands of feeding local families through the winter, said Rick White, director of social services for the local Salvation Army.

The organization has feed 7,000 individuals this year, he added.

“We hope to build an inventory during the holiday season to be able to get through the spring,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed by organizers of local food pantries who said keeping the shelves stocked has become challenging as families and seniors struggle with rising food prices and cuts to food-stamp benefits.

Food bank organizers have noticed that while the economy is slowly bouncing back, workers whose hours have been slashed or were recently laid off are visiting their facilities because they have had difficulty making ends meet.

Organizers at Loaves and Fishes, a food bank in south Glendale operated by Catholic Charities of Los Angeles Inc., is still waiting for a $20,000 Emergency Food and Shelter grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The grant was supposed to be issued in February, said Lora Young, the food bank’s program coordinator. Last year, however, the funding wasn’t delivered to the food bank until September and this year, it apparently will be even later.

“We are getting by [by] the skin of our teeth,” she said.

Young has been making do with donations from the neighborhood businesses such as Ralphs, Vons, Whole Foods, Starbucks and Macy’s, as well as the generosity of local residents.

“That’s the only way we are surviving,” she said.

A regular donor of the pantry is a local doctor who drops off a shopping cart full of Costco groceries, which she pays for out of her own pocket, Young added.

The groceries and donations have helped feed about 800 individuals monthly. They’ve also provided 200 sack lunches for the homeless.

Organizations such as the Verdugo Hills Council of Boy Scouts of America see the need for supplies at local food banks, so they often try to collect canned goods and grains from residents about this time of year.

On Saturday, the local Boy Scouts dropped off empty Trader Joe’s bags at homes throughout the Glendale, Burbank, Eagle Rock and foothill region and asked for food donations.

“If they give us food, it’s going to the pantry — 100% goes to help those who need it,” said Larry Widdis, the chapter’s council commissioner.

The bags will be collected next Saturday and any food items will be accepted.

Local food banks receive a bulk of their food donations during the holiday season.

The Burbank Temporary Aid Center, an assistance facility with a local food pantry, tries to collect at least 1,000 turkeys and hams, as well as the fixings, for a meal every holiday season to help feed families and individuals in need.

Barbara Howell, the organization’s executive director, said many families struggle for food during the holiday season because they often just spent a portion of their budget on new clothes or back-to-school supplies for their children.

But, organizers added, families need food supplies, such as canned or packaged goods and other pantry supplies, throughout the year.

“It’s hard because we see people all year long,” Young said. “There is always a need.”

The Kiwanis club has allotted $10,000 of its annual budget for its quarterly delivery of rice and beans to the Salvation Army.

“We are not going to stop anytime soon,” Cormier said.

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Follow Veronica Rocha on Google+ and on Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA

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