Food banks help the needy, especially during the Thanksgiving holidays, but one L.A. food bank is struggling with a different problem — not with too little food, but too much.
The Santa Monica-based Westside Food Bank has to throw food away or turn down donations because of inadequate storage space. They say they are having trouble balancing supply and demand.
"Our warehouses are almost always over capacity," said Genevieve Riutort, chief development officer for the Westside Food Bank. "That is a real challenge for us –– to have enough space –– because Los Angeles is very expensive."
Westside Food Bank distributes nearly 100,000 pounds of produce and packaged goods through food assistance programs from their 7,000-square-foot warehouse every week. It serves nearly 10 percent of the greater L.A. area, according to Riutort. In LA alone, 1.4 million people suffer from food insecurity.
But recently the food bank had to turn away donations. Their warehouse was nearly full with goods they were unable to distribute.
The food bank's biggest problem is not having space in the warehouse for canned goods and enough coolers for fresh produce.
The food bank does not have enough staff or budget to manage food packing for pick-up by other food agencies, which makes fresh produce hard to send out in time.
Fresh produce like peaches and broccoli and milk have a short shelf life and must be delivered within a week, Riutort said.
Ever since the food bank lost most of the support from the USDA's The Emergency Food Assistance Program, known as TEFAP, three years ago, it has had to supplement its food inventory with its own funds.
"I would say less than five percent of our food came from USDA this year," Riutort said.
The USDA cut its support based on average income in Los Angeles County, which exceeds its funding standard. According to TEFAP 2017 Income Guidelines, a median household of four should earn less than $43,170 per year to qualify. The average income of an L.A. household was $55,909, which was above the national standard.
Many people in L.A. don't qualify for the program, but the high cost of living means residents at that income level aren't any better off than those making less in other parts of the county, Riutort said.
"People living in our area are making too much money to qualify for the benefits, but they do not make enough money to buy food for their family," she added.
According to a 2017 Apartment List Report, almost one-third of LA renters spend more than half their income on housing. The standard that is considered economically healthy is less than 30 percent, the report said.
"The majority of the people we serve live in households where at least one person is employed, but wages have not kept up with rising cost of housing causing many families and individuals to need food assistance," said Director of Los Angeles Regional Food Bank Elizabeth Cervantes in an email.
An estimated 80 percent of families who shop at food pantries rely on food banks on a regular basis, according to Riutort. Food banks provide high quality food that could balance nutrition to people in need, despite their financial strains.
"There are going be people, families, grandmas and children eating the food. Food bank is not the place that anyone should dump food that is trash," Riutort said. "We don't want to be waste baskets."
With so many people in the L.A. region not knowing where their next meal is coming from, food banks like Westside Food Bank are key to their survival, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday.