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COMMUNITY NEWS: CENTRAL

ECHO PARK : Center Assails Food Allotment Cutback

January 02, 1994|IRIS YOKOI

A dispute between a community group and the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank reflects what service providers say is a growing problem: how to balance shrinking food supplies with a rising number of hungry people.

A vocal volunteer for the Chinese Community Service Center, which distributes food to about 400 needy senior citizens a month, contends that the Food Bank has unfairly cut the center's supply of free food.

Alice Chang contends that the center, at 1348 Kellam Ave., received only about one-tenth of the federal surplus food rations in December that it has traditionally received during its 10-year history as a food provider.

Officials of the nonprofit Food Bank, which distributes food to 725 charities throughout the county, said deliveries to the Chinese Community Service Center were cut back because the center was stockpiling food. According to Executive Director Doris Bloch, Food Bank staffers found excessive amounts of food at the center during annual inspections in August. The inspectors also found signs of rat and insect infestation in some storage areas. The Food Bank suspended deliveries to the center for 30 days and ordered it to fumigate, Bloch said.

After the center provided proof that the infestation had been taken care of, the hold was lifted. But the Food Bank reduced the center's food allotment, partly because of the stockpiling and also because of a drop in its own supply.

A large portion of the food distributed by the Food Bank comes from the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, in which the federal government buys surplus food from farmers and other suppliers at low cost and donates it to the states for distribution.

The Food Bank, under contract from the state and county, distributes the federal surplus food, which usually consists of a limited inventory of goods such as butter, peanut butter and fruit juice, at no cost to charities. The Food Bank also buys surplus food at a discount from suppliers to sell for 11 cents per pound to charities. Some food is also donated by the suppliers.

In June, the Food Bank had an inventory of nearly 500,000 pounds of federal surplus food. By November, reserves were down to about 122,000 pounds, Bloch said. "June through August, it was fat city, but now, we have neither the quantity (nor) the variety," she said.

Chang argues that she must warehouse food specifically because of occasional drops in supply. She said she accumulates the food over weeks to have enough for the hundreds of people who show up at end-of-the-month distributions and for individuals or families who come to the center at other times.

"We serve seniors from Echo Park, Downtown, Elysian Park, Lincoln Heights, Chinatown, and some even come from more far away," said Chang, who helped found the nonprofit Chinese Community Service Center in 1970. "They depend upon this."

But Food Bank and state food distribution officials countered that stockpiling creates inequities and fosters tensions among agencies, particularly when coupled with a general decrease in the supply of food.

"If you have some storing at one site, while at another site, people are leaving with nothing . . . it's important to keep an eye on this," said Ken Grayson, director of the food assistance program for the state Department of Social Services.

Grayson and Bloch said that they are sympathetic to Chang's concerns and that they understand her desire to store food. But "on the other side, you've got to make sure everybody gets some," Grayson said.

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