August 10, 2008
Food Centers See Rising Demand for Aid
By Justin Gutierrez
The economy's summer slump has made more than gas tanks operate on nearly empty.
With elevated gas prices and the housing market crash, residents in Whittier and surrounding communities have had to tighten their financial belts, leading many to seek aid from local food pantries.
But some of these food centers are experiencing empty shelves as many try to endure the highest demand ever seen.
"We are up on our numbers. Families, who are allowed to pick up once a week and usually only do so once a month, are now coming two, three or four times a month," said Interfaith Food Center Director Veronica Hernandez.
The food center, located near the southeast end of Whittier, receives its food from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, as well as from local market and resident donations.
Mario Muralles, director of Food Net at the Los Nietos Senior Center, reported a 40 percent increase in the number of clients requiring food aid.
"Last year, we passed out about 60 bags of food every other week. Now we're up to about 100," Muralles said. He added that clients came from all economic and ethnic backgrounds.
A 40 percent increase in clientele seems to be universal in the San Gabriel Valley. Francisco Aquino, pastor of Inglesia Bautista Monte Hermon in El Monte, said the pantry has experienced hard times, and has had to stop buying food from LARFB, which charges 25 cents per pound of food.
"We hand out about 18,000 pounds of food a month. We ask for donations from the church, but we're still visiting three or four markets a day. It's about $1,000 a month in gas," Aquino said.
Hernandez said that clients must fill out an application to receive the supplemental aid. The center, however, supports a free- lunch program for the homeless, which has less stringent guidelines.
Darlene Kentz, volunteer at IFC, said this service has spiked in demand.
"Last year, 20 to 25 people came a day to receive the free lunch. Now we're seeing 40 and up," Kentz said.
Hernandez reports that on average, IFC gives out $5,000 to $7,000 daily in food aid.
"We are very low on personal donations ... (and) each pack of food we give to families is worth about $50 to $70," Hernandez said. "We urge people to do whatever they can to help."
Muralles also said that donations are heavily needed at the Los Nietos Senior Center.
The Salvation Army of Whittier reported little change in its food pantry supply and demand, despite Salvation Army's initiation of "Operation Feed Our Families," a campaign geared toward raising funds to restore the supply of its depleted Los Angeles food pantries.
The same story is reported at First Bilingual Church in Pico Rivera. Lupe Cant , director of the church's food pantry, said business is as usual.
"We serve about 50 families, 200 people in all ... we have been blessed with good volunteers and supplies," Cant said.
The contact information for all of the food banks can be found on LARFB's Web site, at http://lafoodbank.org
(562) 698-0955, Ext. 3024
(c) 2008 Whittier Daily News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.