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LOS ANGELES | THE TIMES HOLIDAY CAMPAIGN

A Bag of Groceries a Week Helps Keep Family Fed

November 08, 2001|MITCHELL LANDSBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Life is getting easier for Maximina Santos now that three of her seven children have grown and married. That's three fewer mouths to feed.

"Nevertheless," Santos said Wednesday, "with four children at home, I rely on the food pantry."

A 47-year-old Santa Monica homemaker whose husband, Felix, is a gardener, Santos was sitting on a couch at the St. Joseph Center food pantry in Venice, where she comes once a week for a single bag of groceries for her family. Potatoes, rice and beans carry the Santoses through three days of meals; the children eagerly await the package because it usually contains Mexican sweet bread or some other treat.

Santos fits the profile of the typical recipient of food from the St. Joseph Center, which is an indirect recipient of contributions to the Holiday Campaign of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund. The fund gave money this year to charitable organizations in the five-county Southern California region, including the Westside Food Bank, which provides a third of the food at the St. Joseph Center pantry. The center buys one third and the rest comes from private donations.

The St. Joseph Center is an independent, nonprofit social-service agency that provides 11 programs aimed to empower the working poor.

A typical recipient is a Latina who is married and has children, with a family income of about $1,000 a month. "Very few of them receive government assistance," said pantry director Leticia Garcia Greenman. "These are not people who are on the dole."

Demand for the pantry's services surged after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Some of the new recipients had lost their jobs in the travel and tourism industry--many worked at hotels. And others, especially gardeners, housekeepers and nannies, lost work when their bosses were hurt financially.

Santos, a legal immigrant from the Mexican state of Aguascalientes, counts her family lucky: Her husband didn't lose a single customer. But his customers have cut back sharply on extra services he provides, such as tree trimming, which previously gave their family a little financial padding.

That's made the pantry more important than ever. "It's helped us a great deal," she said, smiling. "I'm very happy coming here."

The Holiday Campaign was established last year after the Los Angeles Times merged with Tribune Co. It is a part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, which includes The Times' long-running Summer Camp Program.

The McCormick Tribune Foundation will match the first $500,000 in donations at 50 cents on the dollar, and the Los Angeles Times will absorb all administrative costs.

HOW TO GIVE:

Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign should be sent to: LA Times Holiday Campaign, File #56491, Los Angeles, CA, 90074-6491. Please do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made at http://www.latimes.com/holidaycampaign. All donations are tax deductible. Contributions of $25 or more will be acknowledged in the Los Angeles Times unless a donor requests otherwise. For more information about the Holiday Campaign call (800) LA TIMES, Ext. 75480.

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