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Los Angeles-area leaders urged to better coordinate anti-hunger programs

With an estimated 1 million residents struggling to put food on the table, a coalition creates a blueprint to address the problem. But one group said better utilization of a federal program is key.

November 24, 2009|By Duke Helfand

Seeking to stem a mounting hunger crisis in Los Angeles County, Jewish community leaders Monday urged government agencies to better coordinate their splintered efforts and to expand access to unclaimed food assistance programs.

The focus on hunger by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and other groups comes as an estimated 1 million county residents struggle to put food on the table.

The new Blueprint to End Hunger in Los Angeles lists more than two dozen recommendations to address the problem, including the creation of a food policy council that would integrate policies and services offered by the county and its cities, school districts and nonprofit groups.

"We are committed to the eradication of hunger in Los Angeles," Federation President John R. Fishel said at a news conference. "We think working together we can accomplish that."

Fishel and other Jewish leaders were joined Monday by L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz and L.A. school board member Steve Zimmer. All three said they would introduce motions this week to coordinate and streamline their nutrition services for the needy.

One anti-hunger advocate applauded the united effort but said civic and government leaders should focus their attention on a handful of key solutions, particularly that of enrolling more low-income families for food stamps.

L.A. County loses as much as $1.3 billion a year in federal assistance because large numbers of low-income residents are not registered for the program, according to California Food Policy Advocates, a statewide organization that concentrates on improving the health of low-income people.

Matthew Sharp, a senior advocate with the group, said nearly 1 million low-income people in L.A. County are eligible for food stamps but do not receive the benefit. He said county social service agencies could play a greater role in registering those who qualify.

"The federal nutrition safety net represents the biggest opportunity to make the biggest difference quickly," Sharp said.

duke.helfand@latimes.com

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