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FOOD BRIEFS

L.A. Foodbank Expands Service

December 21, 1989|DANIEL P. PUZO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From Doris Bloch's new second-floor office you can see the tip of city hall and the high rises of downtown's financial district about three miles away. These symbols of the city's power and wealth are in stark contrast to the tire-strewn abandoned lot just across the street.

But for Bloch, executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, either of the two vistas is welcome.

Below her office is a massive complex of warehouse, cold storage and sorting rooms alive with activity on a typical morning at the nation's largest processing center for donated food destined for the area's needy.

The new 55,500-square foot structure became necessary when the charity faced a staggering rent increase at its old City of Vernon property. Building the current structure on 41st street became a more economical option than paying the higher rent or renovating another property.

Now the tan brick building, opened just weeks ago, stands as a monument to local anti-hunger efforts.

"This is a great place for us to be: we're near where the need is in the heart of the county," said Bloch. "It's not glamorous, but it's practical. . . . And at least now they can't raise the rent on us."

The improved headquarters will help the organization better serve the neighborhood charities that aid the poor and homeless.

Through its loading dock the food bank annually distributes about 18 million pounds of donated food to more than 477 community agencies. These centers, in turn, provide meals and groceries to more than 200,000 disadvantaged adults and children a week.

On one wall in Bloch's office is a map of Los Angeles County that is covered with red and blue dots, which indicate sites where the food bank's commodities are distributed. The markers stretch from Pomona to Canoga Park and include groups such as the Boy's Club of San Gabriel Valley, Catholic Charities, El Rescate, Salvation Army, Union Rescue Mission and Watts Labor Community Action Committee.

"Some of these outlets rely on us for 100% of their food. Without us some would have to shut down," she said.

The food bank, however, is not thinking in terms of withdrawal, only expansion. For instance, the building is state of the art with a 100,000 cubic foot freezer, which is only stocked to about one-third capacity.

"They say I'll never get this freezer filled," Bloch said. "Wrong. I guarantee I will."

Despite the new quarters, Bloch and her staff of employees and volunteers still struggle to meet the demand for food assistance from the area's poor.

In fact, the operation is trying to reverse a major drop in food donations that occurred in 1988. The shortfall was divided among the center's major donors: the U.S. government, the supermarket industry and food manufacturers.

The decline is the result of several developments. The federal government has curtailed its surplus distribution program and no longer provides cheese or nonfat dry milk. The supermarket industry has implemented new quality control efforts that decrease the amount of cosmetically damaged, but otherwise edible, food that can be diverted to hunger-relief efforts. And the spate of mergers and acquisition among the major food corporations has meant that company management has focused on more pressing financial issues than charitable contributions.

Bloch said, for instance, that in 1987 the food bank distributed 23.2 million pounds of free food into the community. But the following year, the donations dropped about 22% to 18.1 million pounds. The food bank stabilized the rate of contributions at about the 18 million pound level for 1989.

But at the same time the demand for assistance has increased. Just last year the facility was providing food to 429 community charities. Today that figure has increased by 11%.

Winter, and the holiday season specifically, are times of acute demand.

"I don't know why, but we do get more requests for food during the holidays," Bloch said. "More people just seem to be in need."

The public is also an important source of donations during food drives that are being held with some regularity at local corporations and retail outlets. Bloch intends to intensify these efforts in 1990 by offering firms assistance and volunteers in order to organize such drives.

And the food bank plans to expand its mission beyond the area's poor, according to Bloch. The charity is working with city and county officials to coordinate food relief efforts in the event of a major earthquake.

"We've already worked with those involved with disaster relief, so that we can be up and running after an earthquake," she said.

The preparedness is important, Bloch said, because after the San Francisco earthquake in October donations of food flowed into the city but officials were hard-pressed to handle or store the contributions. If a similar disaster hits the Los Angeles area then the food bank is equipped to process donations and distribute them to hardest hit areas.

In the meantime, the food bank is continuing a performance record that places 20 pounds of food into the community for every $1 spent operating the center.

"We squeeze every ounce of food out of every dollar we have," Bloch said.

The Los Angeles Regional Foodbank welcomes donations of non-perishable foods and monetary contributions. For more information write to 1734 E. 41st St., Los Angeles 90058 or call (213) 234-3030.

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