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Supply of Food for Needy Imperiled

Nonprofit group that gathers leftovers from lavish affairs says a plunge in donations could shut it down.

January 25, 2003|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Every city is home to two countries: In one, people live well, hold lavish parties, dine on exquisite food. In the other, people know hunger, homelessness and poverty.

For the last seven years Angel Harvest has sent its trucks to bridge the gap between the two, picking up excess food from the city's award shows, corporate parties and political bashes and delivering it to shelters and soup kitchens.

"What we are is essentially the middleman," said Helen Palit. "We're a trucking company."

But in a post-9/11 world, fewer corporations and foundations are giving to Angel Harvest, and those who give tend to give less. As the money needed to maintain the trucks, pay drivers and cover insurance has dried up, the organization faces a hard reality. Palit says it must raise $21,000 by the end of the month and $250,000 to make it through the year, or the trucks will stop and the giving will end.

"That's a very real possibility," said Palit.

This week Palit has been on a campaign, hitting radio shows and sending out public pleas for funds. If her Redondo Beach-based operation shuts down, she says, the 39 organizations that receive free food deliveries from the organization -- food prepared by the city's top chefs -- will suffer.

Over the years, the organization has picked up food made for post-Oscars parties and Democratic National Convention galas, and delivered it to places such as the Downtown Women's Shelter and the Salvation Army, Palit said.

The nonprofit group delivers enough food to provide 5,000 meals a day, she said.

The organization's problems began after the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, and grew worse. The group downsized and tripled fund-raising efforts. That brought the operating cost down from 42 cents a meal to 13 cents, she said.

But news of corporate fraud, misuse of funds by some charitable organizations and the flagging economy have made fund-raising tough. The corporations that once sent the group checks now send "really lovely notes saying, 'Sorry, we have no money to give,' "she said.

The goodwill that normally arrives in the form of checks during the holiday season was a no-show this year. Compared with $80,000 worth of cash and in-kind donations that the group received in December 2001, the group received $30,000 last month, Palit said.

Palit does not accept government funding or money from United Way, "because that ties our hands." She is depending on the public to respond to her appeals, including one on the group's Web site (www.angelharvest.org).

"These people [who donate] are really making a difference," she said. "They're keeping our trucks on the road. All this amazing food is being picked up, and hungry men, women and children are going to eat."

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