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Why Some LA Food Banks Are Giving Out Thanksgiving Chickens This Year

Some food banks in Los Angeles are so tough this holiday season that they are handing out Thanksgiving chickens instead of turkeys due to an economic crisis that is expected to continue through Christmas and the start of the New Year.

Kenny Jones, director of People for Community Improvement, said he had no choice but to swap poultry at the nonprofit Willowbrook Food Bank in the face of rising inflation and a the increase in needs since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We did a chicken pass out last Thursday because we couldn’t afford the turkeys,” he said earlier this week. “We’ve seen more people come out this year, and we just need to get more donations and help. … Everything went up – food, gas, utilities, insurance.

These are common sentiments among those working to provide food and other essentials to low-income Angelenos. Some report a drop in food and fund donations. Others, like Jones, say they don’t have enough volunteers to keep running smoothly during the busy holiday season.

Saadia Jackson holds her free turkey while queuing for a bag of fixings during the 37th Turkey Giveaway by Sweet Alice Harris and her Parents of Watts organization on Saturday.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

They all say they’re feeling the pinch this winter. For smaller, independent food banks, this may mean handing out lighter bags or even shutting down altogether. For some organizations that have been successful in meeting much of their communities’ needs, this has meant offering less traditional food options for the holidays.

Every Tuesday afternoon, Unity Fellowship of Christ Church Los Angeles distributes food to dozens of people who line up under a sign with the words “Love is for everyone” in black block letters.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Minister Art Miller, the church pantry coordinator, supervised a small team of volunteers who handed out pasta, stuffing, canned vegetables and fruit outside his modest storefront in West Adams.

Ahead of Thanksgiving, Miller said the food bank had hoped to distribute turkeys, as it has done every year since it opened seven years ago. But he does get food from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which distributed thousands fewer turkeys to food banks this month than in previous Novembers.

Why Some LA Food Banks Are Giving Out Thanksgiving Chickens This Year

Volunteers Kirk Hill, left, and Kimberley Coleman, and minister Art Miller of Unity Fellowship of Christ Church Los Angeles, sort through inventory at the church’s food bank in Willowbrook on Tuesday.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

As a result, many people who rely on the bags of food they picked up at the West Adams Food Bank on Tuesday will serve chicken or fish for their Thanksgiving meals instead.

That’s great for Monique Smith, who lives nearby and says she’s been visiting the food bank for two years. On Tuesday, the 51-year-old stowed plastic grocery bags weighed down with cans and boxes in a pink-patterned wheelie bag she had dragged to the dispensing table after the line shut down.

“I’m running out of food and the day after Thanksgiving,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without it.”

Michael Flood, general manager of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, said it was feeding more than 800,000 hungry Angelenos every month – up from a peak of more than 1 million a month at the start of the pandemic. The nonprofit distributes food directly to individuals and to more than 600 LA County food banks and pantries, churches, and other nonprofits.

But Flood said that for his organization it’s a “constant struggle to try to meet the global need and global demand for food”, especially given the high inflation and sustained demand in recent months. The bird flu epidemic, which contributed to the decrease in the availability of turkeys throughout the country, and food supply chain problems made it more difficult for the organization to source certain foods.

Why Some LA Food Banks Are Giving Out Thanksgiving Chickens This Year

Anthony Daniel, right, leaves with bags of food during a distribution at Unity Fellowship of Christ Church Los Angeles in Willowbrook on November 22.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

He was only able to get five truckloads of turkeys in the run-up to Thanksgiving, compared to about 10 he bought in previous years, Flood said.

“This year there is less supply,” he said. “We bought truckloads of frozen chicken so there could be at least a meat protein option for families celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.”

Food donations also plummeted at LA County Department of Aging and Disabilities facilities. A department spokeswoman said the number of people needing food at many of its community and senior centers has increased over the past year. At the same time, she said, many centers are still receiving fewer food donations than before the pandemic, a decrease some have attributed to inflation.

During the pandemic, more than a fifth of Californians have faced food insecurity on a daily basis, according to researchers at Northwestern University.

Statewide, before COVID-19 disrupted the livelihoods of millions of residents, more than 15% of households with children were food insecure. That figure nearly doubled at the start of the pandemic, according to the California Assn. food banks.

The state has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to food banks over the past decade. In the 2022-23 state budget signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in June, more than $100 million was allocated to support food banks. Corporations, foundations and individuals donate millions of dollars to food banks in LA County each year.

But the need for nutritious food in this city is often just too high. These are tough times for many food banks and pantries.

People for Community Improvement provides food bags to hundreds of families each week. Jones, the group’s director, said his food bank was still trying to recover from the economic effects of COVID-19.

“Since the pandemic, it’s really difficult to get back on track. This is the difficult part. Before the pandemic, we had eight people, and now we’re down to three [workers] so it was a struggle,” he said. “We don’t have to turn people away. … But it’s been pretty hectic.

Why Some LA Food Banks Are Giving Out Thanksgiving Chickens This Year

Volunteer Morice Jones prepares bags of food during a distribution at the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church Los Angeles food bank in Willowbrook on Tuesday.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Morice Jones, a volunteer with the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church food bank, kept the dry goods distribution table moving this week.

“You can have another mac and cheese,” he told an older woman with a walker as she turned to leave with less than her allotted amount. “To chase.”

He said one of the reasons the holidays are so busy for food banks is the pressure and extra expense the season brings.

“I feel like a lot of people show up at this time of year because they might not want to admit they need help otherwise,” he said. “But sometimes during the holidays is when they let their pride down because they don’t want to let their family down.”

Outside the church in West Adams minutes later, Mark Darby was holding bags of groceries from his food bank and listening to music on tiny headphones while waiting to get home.

He and his disabled brother have relied on food banks for years, the 59-year-old said, but their needs have increased during the pandemic as their monthly costs for housing, utilities and food have increased rapidly. Rising inflation has only made their situation more difficult.

“We pay huge rent and when we get to our destination, we’re broke. That leaves very little for the vittles,” he said. “But I’m blessed, I’m getting through it. With the help of food banks, cupboards are never empty.

Los Angeles Times

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