Members of the entertainment industry are planning a celebrity gala to benefit Dennis Weaver's Love Is Feeding Everyone Friday at the Anaheim Convention Center.
LIFE, which is celebrating its second anniversary this year, was founded by Weaver in 1983 as a means of providing a channel for unused food from supermarkets to hungry families in Los Angeles. Through LIFE's "food recovery system" surplus high-quality dairy, deli, bakery and produce items that are still edible, yet no longer saleable, are salvaged from supermarkets. LIFE vans pick up the food daily and distribute it to the needy through satellite community organizations that designate who the needy are.
"I think one of the unique things about our program is the kind of food we distribute," Weaver said in a telephone interview. "It's a well-balanced diet, not just surplus cheese and butter but fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, staple foods that make for good protein in the diet. . . . It's food that a family can depend upon each day of the week. They know they're going to get enough food to sustain them for a week."
Began in Former Firehouse
LIFE began in an East Los Angeles firehouse donated by the city, with volunteers collecting food and distributing it to the hungry through a network of churches, temples and community organizations. The organization was created, according to publicists, to respond to the need of an estimated 1.3 million needy citizens in the surrounding area--specifically in East Los Angeles where there are an estimated 50,000 hungry people.
In addition to supermarket sweeps, LIFE collects food through food drives during which supermarket shoppers are encouraged to buy one or more food items and donate them to LIFE volunteers.
A similar food drive will be conducted this weekend during the Food and Cooking Expo '85, a culinary event hosted by Jackie Olden of CBS radio's Food News Hour. The Expo will take place at Anaheim Convention Center from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. each day. Admission is $6.50.
In addition to food and appliance exhibits, the Expo will feature the US Chefs de Cuisine, a southern California nonprofit organization of chefs, plus chefs from the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in the Gallery of Chefs in a continuous demonstration with three chefs simultaneously preparing food.
During last year's show, Weaver said, visitors donated food items and money to support the program. "I think it (the food drive) will do nothing but grow this year."
Seeing a 'New Hungry'
Weaver lent his support to the program, he said, because "I became conscious of the fact that we were seeing a 'new hungry' at that time. It (the term new hungry ) implies that there is a group that's always been hungry but now we have a new group . . . people who never experienced hunger were sleeping in cars. . . . I thought we should be helping somehow.
"The situation hasn't improved as far as the total number suffering from hunger, but it's a satisfying thing for all of us when we contribute to solving a problem. It gives us all a feeling of satisfaction . . . that we really need. I feel good about the fact that I'm in a position to do something that is really doing them (the hungry) some good."
Weaver attributes a great part of the program's success to the generosity of the people who have volunteered their time and effort, including entertainers like Valerie Harper, who make active participation in the program a priority. LIFE boasts an impressive list of supporters, too--among them are Maud Adams, Jayne Meadows and Joanne Carson.
"If there weren't people out there who really cared about people, the program would never work," Weaver said. "The reason our program works is that we have some fantastic people on our paid staff who do a tremendous job for us, beyond the call of duty. They're very dedicated people."
2,500 Families Per Week
And the program does seem to work. At its inception, LIFE'S pilot program provided food for fewer than 200 families. Today, LIFE is feeding more than 2,500 families per week--more than 15,000 people overall, according to program statistics. The organization opened its second food distribution center in South Central Los Angeles this year and has plans to set up a third site in the San Fernando Valley.
As an ultimate goal, LIFE would like to serve as an example for other private sector groups throughout the nation to begin programs like theirs as a solution to starvation, Weaver explained.
"We hope to achieve the perfect goal of at least three to four centers--although we know nothing ever gets perfect--we want to reach a level of self-sustenance where centers operate at a maximum level of efficiency and really make an impact on hunger across the country," he said. "There are a lot of other help organizations around the country, and with all of us working together we can have some kind of impact."
Persons interested in donating time as a clerical volunteer at the LIFE administrative office, Great Western Savings and Loan Building, 310 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, should call 936-0895. Volunteers are also needed for sorting food, answering telephones or filling orders at one of the distribution centers. Food donations, paper bags, calculators, mechanically sound vans to transport the food, equipment of all kinds and monetary donations are also needed.