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LOCAL HERO

A Place for Everything : From matzo to shoe buckles, Valley pair can find a use for it all.

July 12, 1993|LIBBY SLATE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Though neither David Kaye nor Marvin Flagg will, as they put it, see 65 again, the two are far from retired. For five years, under the auspices of Encino B'nai B'rith, the San Fernando Valley residents have collected and distributed food and merchandise to more than 40 charitable and social service organizations throughout Los Angeles County.

Last year, they disseminated 1.5 million pounds of food, 4,000 toys and 2,000 blankets to needy people. They also distributed health and hygiene items, laundry supplies, cosmetics, bolts of fabric, books, jewelry, perfume and even bras. They estimate they help feed up to 4,000 people each week.

The endeavor began in 1975, when Kaye took charge of B'nai B'rith's donation of food baskets to the elderly at Passover and Hanukkah, a project he and his wife, Sylvia, still oversee. Wanting to expand his charity work, in 1988 he acquired donated space in a storage facility and teamed up with fellow B'nai B'rith member Flagg. They asked business contacts for food and other contributions.

"It took off so fast, we didn't know how to keep up," says Kaye, who is retiring from his frozen food business; retiree Flagg owned a grocery store in his native New York and more recently was territory manager for a Los Angeles food distributor.

"We started supplying a number of organizations, and as their numbers grew, we grew," Kaye says. Groups that benefit include shelters for the homeless and for battered women and abused children and an organization for people with brain damage. Most pick up supplies once every two weeks at a second storage facility in Chatsworth, this one paid for by B'nai B'rith.

Kaye does the scheduling and Flagg the distributing. Both unload cases of goods with the help of fellow B'nai B'rith volunteers Sydney Eiduson, Murray Lefkowitz and Bernard Markman.

Both devote hours to rounding up their bounty, most of which is donated by product manufacturers and food manufacturers and distributors.

"No contacts come to us--we have to go out and hunt them up," Kaye says. "I would never go out and beg for myself, but I will for someone else. I was talking to a man when I was in line at the airport a few weeks ago who imports and exports stuff from Asia. I told him what we do and he said, 'I think we can find something for you.' "

Adds Flagg, "We have a saying: There is not a piece of merchandise that we can't find a place for." After acquiring 113,000 cases of matzo, he says, "We have people eating matzo who never knew what matzo is."

On another occasion, the two were given hundreds of decorative shoe buckles in exchange for other goods by Children of the Night, an organization that helps young people get off Hollywood streets. After more than a year, Kaye and Flagg found the proper use for the buckles--as embellishments for hats created by a group of women for cancer-stricken children made bald by chemotherapy.

Children of the Night this week will receive Kaye and Flagg's recent acquisition of 100 bras. Other less than conventional donations have included jewelry boxes filled with nail polish, earrings and perfume for last year's holiday season

"I don't think there's any item in a store we haven't dealt with," Flagg says. "But we handle very few perishable items."

They would like to work with even more products, they say, and are hoping to find more donated storage space as they can't afford to rent another facility.

"There are so many people in need, that no matter what we do, it's a bottomless pit," says Flagg.

Adds Kaye, "It's fun and exciting to be able to help, and also challenging to find food and other necessities. It really is better to give than to receive. There's nothing like it in the world."

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