HUNTINGTON PARK — The Steelworkers Oldtimers Foundation, one of the Southeast area's biggest food banks for the poor, has received an eviction notice to vacate the union hall that it has called home for the last four years.
The food bank--which has operated with federal funds and private donations, including hefty contributions from rock star Bruce Springsteen--distributes from 7,000 to 10,000 bags of groceries a month to individuals, unions, organizations and other food pantries.
According to the eviction notice, the food bank is to be out of the union hall by the end of July because the building has been sold. However, food bank officials have expressed optimism that an agreement to stay longer can be worked out with the International Steelworkers Union, which owns the building at 6004 Maywood Ave.
"We're trying to discuss it with them (and find out) why all of a sudden this is happening," said George Cole, foundation director, who noted that the program has received high marks in the past from the union. He said he will wait to talk with union officials before making any immediate plans to relocate the food bank.
Building Sold, Letter Says
The foundation received a letter from the Compton-based International Steelworkers Union saying that the building had been sold and the new tenants will be moving in Aug. 1. Director Bob Guadiana was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Assistant Director Tom Hughes, who said he did not know the details of the union's action, only said that the building has not actually been sold but the union does have a buyer. "It's not just pushing everybody out," he said.
The union hall had been the home of Steelworkers Local 1845, which is now defunct. Former union members used to work at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Vernon before it closed in December, 1982, after operating for 52 years.
Food bank officials said a comparable building in the immediate vicinity would be difficult to find. The building, which the foundation rents for $1,200 a month, has five small offices in the front and a large warehouse in the back.
"I don't know where we would go," said office manager Denece Adams, who also helps run referral and advocacy services that are provided for needy families.
"The union has been nice. They have let us stay here for a very, very reasonable rent," she said. "When you're living from one government grant to another and squeaking by on donations, a huge rent increase could be fatal."
Located Among Food Beneficiaries
Cole said that it is crucial for the food bank to stay in the area because it is at the hub of where most of the beneficiaries of the program live.
"It has become a landmark in our community," Cole said. "People know if they need help, they can come here and get help."
The food bank, set up in late 1982 by former employees of the closed Bethlehem Steel plant, provides staples to unemployed steelworkers, senior citizens and needy families three times a month. In addition, unions and community groups can pick up food supplies weekdays at the food bank, which is run by six staff members and 150 volunteers.
The food bank will not be the only group displaced if the foundation has to move. A theater project sponsored by the foundation, which uses unemployed steelworkers and other community members as actors and actresses, is based in the former union hall. The food warehouse was used to stage and rehearse the first play of the TheatreWorker's Project. Called "Lady Beth," it was a series of recollections and poems about the steel plant.
Cole said the foundation will receive a donation of $20,000 this month from Springsteen to take the play to the East Coast for three weeks in late August.
Raised $4,000 for Needy
Adams said it was a "shock for us to get this news," which came late last month as the foundation was making plans to have mothers on welfare and unemployed workers stand in line May 25 for Hands Across America, which sought to raise money for the homeless and hungry. The foundation raised almost $4,000 for the cause, Adams said.
Cole said there is also some concern because a contract to distribute the food with county block grant funds runs through January. He said he would like to work it out so the food bank can "at least stay here until December."
"We'd like to negotiate to stay," Adams said. "Hopefully that will happen."