One Man's Legacy

During a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to visit another of Feeding America’s network of 200 food banks, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. I received a warm reception and was given a wonderful tour of their facility. I not only gained insight into the important work the food bank is doing throughout Los Angeles County but was also made aware of just how dire the need to remedy the hunger crisis has become for the most populated county in America. From what was started by Tony Collier, a cook in Pasadena, as a one-man mission in 1973, has grown into the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which distributes more than 1 million pounds of food on a weekly basis with the help of its network of 690 partner agencies and more than 1,100 distribution sites throughout L.A. County. Unfortunately, this large amount of food is not even close to the amount needed in order to help the 1.6 million people who are struggling with hunger right now in the county.  

When many of us think about Los Angeles, we think about the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the celebrity culture that permeates the tabloids. In truth, the rich and famous account for only a small percentage of the population in L.A. and its surrounding areas. Sixteen percent of the population in Los Angeles County experiences food insecurity, which is the equivalent to the total population of the San Fernando Valley. The sad reality is that among the Americans in L.A. who are food insecure, nearly one-quarter of them are under the age of 18 (an estimated 620,000), and seniors age 65 and older comprise 12 percent (more than 23,000). Often both of these groups are incapable of sustaining full-time employment in order to support themselves.  

Prior to co-founding Per Diems Against Poverty, I was mistakenly under the impression that hunger affects only certain groups of people from impoverished backgrounds. Hunger affects ALL groups of people regardless of age, employment status, education level, or ethnicity. In fact, most adult clients of the L.A. Regional Food Bank are high school graduates (39%) with one in seven clients who are currently seeking to increase their level of education. Approximately 25 percent have attended some college or received a college degree, and approximately 13 perfect of households facing hunger include veterans or military personnel. My prior assumptions about the demographics of hunger in America, especially in urban areas, were skewed. Most of these individuals are not homeless;  92 percent live in permanent housing. In most of the households served, the “breadwinner” has held a job in the last 12 months. In today’s economy, even those families who have at least one adult working full-time in an attempt to support their family are coming up short month after month.

Despite these staggering numbers and the rising hunger epidemic in Los Angeles, I am amazed at the optimistic mindset and giving hearts of the workers and volunteers at the Food Bank. They continue “Fighting Hunger. Giving Hope.” They tirelessly distribute food to 280,500 individuals every month, although they know that they’re only scratching the surface of the number of people who need their assistance. In 2014, more than 27,000 volunteers donated their time to the Food Bank. These people make a difference in the work the food bank is able to accomplish. Together with the employees, they were able to distribute 59 million pounds of food, including 11 million pounds of fresh produce. These are REAL results of their labor and the generous donations the Food Bank receives throughout the year.

This amazing organization started with one man who saw food going to waste in the kitchen where he worked and decided to give it to those in need. With strength and perseverance, one person can and will make a difference. If you do not have the time to volunteer, you can coordinate a virtual food drive for your local food bank. Every $1 donated allows banks to distribute numerous meals through their network agencies and/or Food Bank programs, such as The BackPack Program. At the very least, we challenge every person who reads this article to become an advocate. Share this post on your social media pages. Learn the facts about hunger in your community. You may be surprised at how widespread the issue of hunger in America has become. It affects more than 1 in 7 of your neighbors; that's over 47 million Americans do not have enough food to eat, Visit PerDiems.org for more ideas on how to fight hunger in your community.