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Food Banks Want to Join State Disaster-Relief Network


Spurred by last year's earthquake in the San Francisco area, food banks in Ventura County and throughout California are marshaling forces to aid state disaster relief efforts.

Officials at food bank programs statewide want to join a network of relief organizations that already delivers food to victims of earthquakes, floods and hurricanes.

Food banks would not compete to deliver food to disaster victims, but could aid the Red Cross and Salvation Army in getting food to where it is needed, said John Grant, a coordinator for the San Francisco Food Bank.

When the Oct. 17, 1989, earthquake struck in San Francisco, rescue teams responded quickly to aid the injured and dying.

But as days passed and emergency shelters filled with growing numbers of hungry homeless people, Grant said, relief workers were flooded with donations of food from all over the state and country, some of which never reached the area.

"We had a truck from Shasta bringing a load down and essentially took it back because they didn't have a place to put it," Grant said. "We had a truck of pineapples rolling around San Francisco without a place to put it."

Because most food banks are founded in local cities and counties, they are outside a chain of existing agencies contacted by state officials when disaster strikes, said Doris Bloch, executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

One state official said food banks may be able to play an important part in getting aid to the needy in times of disaster.

"It wouldn't hurt to have a plan to interface in the food distribution," said Eileen Baumgardner, assistant for plans and preparedness for the state Office of Emergency Services.

Baumgardner said a representative could serve on disaster response teams, as representatives from private utility companies already do.

The state's food banks leaders began to talk seriously about what they could do to aid disaster planning during a quarterly meeting last November, where they traded stories about problems after the Bay Area earthquake.

"We felt because we were the food banks, we were in a position to coordinate food coming in and direct it to the appropriate agency," Grant said. "There's a definite need for coordination."

Food banks outside of major disaster areas could be called on to deliver and coordinate emergency food relief to Southern and Northern California.

Jewel Pedi, executive director of Food Share in Oxnard, said the group could be called on to divert aid to other areas in times of need or act as a clearinghouse if transportation lines were knocked out.

"Knowing where there is food is pretty important," Pedi said. "It's a network that's already in place. We feel like the food bank system should be included in the system."

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