With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting how food banks operate, many organizations across Los Angeles have faced difficulty while looking for ways to serve holiday meals to families in need.
Executive Director of Urban Partners Los Angeles Trinity Tran said during the pandemic, the organization’s need for food has been constantly changing, rendering Thanksgiving preparations difficult.
“It’s been a bit of a trial trying to figure out how to expand with the need and then scaling back as the pandemic scaled back,” Tran said. “Now, as we’re dealing with the pandemic that’s continuing to roll on, as well as inflation and the effects of economic instability, we’re seeing the need increase again.”
Urban Partners Los Angeles has been working in the Koreatown-Westlake community for over 23 years. According to the organization’s website, the food bank has served 270,000 bags of groceries, fed nearly 20,000 children and has assisted 50,000 community members.
Tran said Urban Partners will be handing out over 150 turkeys on Saturday that will feed up to a family of ten.
Union Rescue Mission, another organization leading the fight against homelessness and poverty, has seen an increase in need for their services during the pandemic.
“There are more people in Los Angeles suffering from food insecurity than, I think, there has been in a long time,” said Andy Bales, president and CEO of Union Rescue Mission.
At the beginning of 2020, over 66,000 people in Los Angeles County were experiencing homelessness. Additionally, according to the US Census Bureau’s estimate in 2019, 13.4% of Los Angeles County residents live below the poverty line.
“We’re going to just continue to step up and do all that we can do and feed as many people as possible,” Bales said. “We’re open 24/7, 365. We do everything we can to meet the needs of everybody who comes to our door.”
Another nonprofit organization, Harmony Bites, aims to ensure hunger relief throughout Southern California, and will distribute holiday foods at their regular food drive Saturday.
“We are giving away turkeys, produce and other food essentials in Long Beach this coming Saturday,” said Harmony Bites founder Fareed Farukhi. “We do a regular food distribution every Saturday in South Central as well. It’s a drive-by distribution for about 250 cars, so you’re looking at about 800 families.”
Harmony Bites is struggling with supply chain issues stemming directly from the pandemic, which could derail their intended holiday programming.
“This year, it’s hard to get these birds [turkeys], whether there’s production issues, supply chain, and pricing,” Farukhi said.
Bales said Union Rescue Mission was fortunate enough to have received direct donations from community members for Thanksgiving provisions.
“We get a lot of food donated, and we have a lot of donors who gave directly for us to be able to purchase turkeys,” Bales said. “We had another donor purchase 500 turkeys for us. Although food costs are up about 20%, we’ve been able to get everything prepared for Thanksgiving season.”
Other organizations — such as Farukhi’s — said to navigate increased costs, they are collaborating with other nonprofits so the monetary burden doesn’t fall on just one organization.
Troy Vaughn, the president and CEO of Los Angeles Mission, said he also sees the need for collaboration with community members to help feed vulnerable populations during the holiday season.
“We have to be more equitable in our community in terms of being able to share resources. No one organization, no one individual can solve this issue,” Vaughn said. “When we have the pandemic, we have to come together as a people, as a nation to begin to make the impact that we all seek and desire.”
Los Angeles Mission will be serving over 3,000 people at their annual holiday event on Thanksgiving that will include handing out small gifts to children in the area.
With the holiday season around the corner, there are plenty of ways for students to get involved. USC students can volunteer or donate at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Big Sunday’s 10th Annual Thanksgiving Stuffing Event, The Midnight Mission and Harmony Bites.
A recent on-campus campaign launched by Yoav Gillath, a freshman studying political economy, encourages students to use their leftover meal swipes to buy snacks which will be donated to local food banks.
The various organizations also identified a need for students and community members to stay engaged with these giving efforts when the holidays are over.
“Whether it’s a holiday, Thanksgiving or Christmas, or just another Saturday, the conditions really remain the same for thousands of working class families in this community who turn to us for assistance to be able to provide enough food to feed themselves and their families,” Tran said.
“We need to stay in the giving space year round,” Vaughn said. “That’s the only way we’re really going to make an impact because more people are falling into food insecurity and poverty.”