Every Saturday morning, the hall at Lighthouse of San Fernando Church, becomes a food center taken over with bags full of bread, cereal boxes and whatever edibles are provided that week by the Los Angeles Food Bank.
In total, 100 bags are given out to anybody who comes in and needs a little extra on their table, or in the case of Maria Garcia, what can sustain her for a few days.
The 75-year-old retiree’s only income is the $700 check she gets from Social Security. She lives alone in the city of San Fernando. Fortunately, she receives government help to pay the rent for her apartment, but she must stretch those $700 to pay for the rest.
“I don’t eat too much,” she says while she carries one of the bags with food given out at the church. “This is a great help that they give out the food.”
A few months ago, she had to go to the dentist to take out a molar that was bothering her. She had to ask a friend for a loan and she’s still paying for it.
Garcia, who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, says she’s never gone hungry, but she has to take care to be extremely frugal and stretch every dollar. On her trips to the supermarket she tries to make sure she only gets the bare minimum to keep going. There are no extravagant purchases or delicacies.
SERVING THOSE IN NEED
The Lighthouse of San Fernando Church has been giving out the free food for about eight months. No questions are asked of those that come in seeking the bags of food. You don’t need to show proof of income or need, nor do you have to attend a church gathering or hear a sermon. Everyone is welcome.
Anthony Bertolino and his wife Marilene are in charge of the food ministry.
They go out and get the items at the Food Bank and bring it over to the church every Friday in a truck. “We go to the food bank and we fill it with eight pallets of food a week,” Anthony said.
The bags are set up on a table and the food giveaway starts at 9 a.m. until the last bag is gone.
Every week there is milk, yogurt, salad, cheese, eggs and some meat. But these items vary in quantity and type every week. One week they even had sushi.
“A crew of church members help distribute the food into 100 bags,” he added, noting that they feel the calling to “bless the community.”
“We want to give them physical, as well as spiritual food,” Anthony noted.
And in these eight months he’s come to find out “there is a great need for the food”.
He said for many people, “they rely on us as a food source.”
“We even have poor people giving us whatever money they have because they need it so much and their heart is so grateful,” Anthony said. But he would never think of accepting that money.
The demand is there, he contends, and he thinks their food giveaway could easily expand to 200 bags every week. But for now that’s all the items the Food Bank provides to the church for each week.
Adrian Ramirez, 58, is another person who makes it to the food distribution regularly.
“I can’t work. It’s very hard to keep afloat,” the San Fernando resident said.
Eulalia Barajas also said she struggles with the Social Security money she and her husband get. They sometimes get a little help from their children, but she doesn’t want to burden them or depend on them. Her husband suffers from respiratory insufficiency and she takes care of him.
“I’m always trying to see how I can stretch what we have,” said Barajas, who stopped by the church after seeing the big sign carried outside the door by Marilene advertising the free food giveaway.
“Many people don’t know we’re here,” Marilene said.
HUNGER IN THE COUNTY
Lack of food or “food insecurity” is a daily struggle for millions of Angelinos throughout L.A County.
A recent study published by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health concludes that: Food insecurity is a major public health issue that has reached crisis proportions in L.A. County.
Food insecurity includes everything from disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake to a lack of dietary quality, variety or desirability, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture definitions.
The prevalence of food insecurity rose dramatically following the recent economic downturn and as of 2013 had not dropped to pre-recession levels, according to the report. Some 17.5 million households across the country were considered food-insecure that year. More than 1.2 million adults were living in Los Angeles County’s 530,000 food-insecure households in 2011, according to the report.
“An inadequate food supply can have many negative effects on physical and mental well-being and can lead to adverse health effects across the entire life span. We encourage those in need to take advantage of the resources available, such as the CalFresh Program, offered through the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services,” indicated Cynthia Harding, MPH, Interim Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The report “Social Determinants of Health: Rising Food Insecurity in Los Angeles County” highlights that many working adults have difficulties in meeting the costs of living in LA County. Nearly half of adults living in food insecure households had some form of employment but were still unable to consistently and reliably afford adequate food. The potential implications of these findings are that those who cannot afford adequate food are at a higher risk for negative health outcomes, including obesity, and are also less able to afford medical care and housing.
LOS ANGELES REGIONAL FOOD BANK
For 42 years, the Food Bank has worked to mitigate this problem.
The organization provides food to 280,500 clients monthly and in 2014 distributed 59 million pounds of food. The Food Bank collects food from hundreds of resources which it distributes through a network of 690 partner agencies throughout L.A. County.
The Food Bank is always looking for donations to continue their mission of help. They note that every $1 you donate equals 4 meals. You can also contribute by volunteering. More than 33,000 people volunteer at the Food Bank annually in order to move 1 million pounds of food every week. The food is distributed to dozens of agencies every week who pass the food on to the people in their neighborhood, just like the Lighthouse of San Fernando Church does every week.
The Lighthouse of San Fernando Church is located at 622 N. Maclay Avenue in the City of San Fernando
To find out how to apply for the Cal Fresh program, visit www.publichealth.lacounty.gov or www.facebook.com/lapublichealth.
To find the nearest food bank distribution center to your home or to donate to the Food Bank, visit lafoodbank.org