“Do they have chili con carne?” Daniel, a 64-year-old Garvanza resident, eagerly asked others standing in line at the Highland Park Senior Center early Monday morning.
Chile con carne is Daniel’s favorite canned food but it isn’t always among the staples distributed through the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
About three hundred or so seniors turned out for the Food Bank distribution held this month in the senior center’s parking lot. Some arrived in cars, others brought their personal grocery baskets and still others shared a grocery cart to haul away the bags made heavy primarily by canned foods.
The two sturdy bags of groceries given to Daniel were filled with non-perishable milk, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables, juice and pasta. Pulling out the last can in the second bag, Daniel seemed unsure if it was what he was hoping to take home: “Chili. I wonder what kind of Chili this is? It doesn’t say Chili Beans,” he told EGP. He eventually found that it did have what he wanted — hamburger meat — making him happy that he got what he wanted after all.
Daniel told EGP that he estimates each bag weighs about 10 pounds and altogether contains $20 to $24 worth of groceries. Groceries he says he really needs these days to get by. This food assistance program is specifically for low-income seniors like Daniel.
A report released late last year by the U.S. Census Bureau using new measurement tools that take into account food costs, found California’s poverty rate to be the worst in the country. According to the federal Supplemental Poverty Measure, nearly one-quarter – 23.5 percent – of the state’s population lives in poverty. That state’s poverty rate is higher than in the Deep South and New York, which traditionally have had the highest rates.
Many Californians are considered “working poor.” They have jobs, but don’t work enough hours or earn enough to take them out of poverty. The state’s higher cost of living contributed to its higher poverty index.
“We’re seeing a very slow recovery [nationally], with increases in poverty among workers due to more new jobs which are low-wage,” University of Wisconsin-Madison economist Timothy Smeeding told the Associated Press, according to an article published last November in the Huffington Post. “As a whole, the safety net is holding many people up, while California is struggling more because it’s relatively harder there to qualify for food stamps and other benefits.”
According to the Food Hardship Study released in February, which looks at the inability to afford enough food for every region, state, Congressional District and 100 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas — five Congressional Districts in Los Angeles County ranked in the top 30 nationwide for food hardship, including the 34th District (Huntington Park and Bell Gardens) which ranked second in the nation with over one-third of respondents (32.8 percent) saying they could not afford food.
Since the start of the Great Recession, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank saw the number of agencies it supplies with food reach a record high of 640 in 2011. Fifteen months later, the Food Bank has a waiting list of 565 more agencies seeking assistance to meet the demand for food by Los Angeles County’s 1.7 million residents struggling to get enough food.
“The high unemployment rate and less food available from the government challenges the Food Bank and the agencies it serves to continue to meet the high demand for assistance,” according the Food Bank’s website.
“These numbers support what we are seeing at the Food Bank – an increase in the number of people in food lines at food pantries and other agencies,” said Michael Flood, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. “Several areas of Los Angeles County are still feeling the effects of the recession and many families are still finding it difficult to make ends meet.”
Seniors, some on fixed incomes and other with no source of income, are particularly vulnerable.
That reality was not lost on an 88-year-old Asian Highland Park resident at Monday’s food distribution, who was so excited to find that the carton of non-perishable pasteurized milk she found in her bags was in liquid form; others received powered milk.
“This is a big help for us… milk, cheese, cereal, what we need the most,” she said. “Sometimes they have rice, but not today,” she added.
Danny Mesa, a driver and distributor for the Food Bank, said the cargo truck parked at the center had about 300 crates of foods when it arrived. By 11a.m. less than 50 remained. Mesa said the Food Bank is consolidating two of its distribution programs for seniors at the Highland Park Senior Center, so they expect a larger crowd there next month.
The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank Commodity Supplemental Food Program distributes food at senior centers throughout the county. To qualify, a senior must be 60 years or older, and meet the income guidelines: no more than $1,180 per month for one person, or $1,594 per month for two people.
Requirements include a picture ID that shows a date of birth, proof of income (Social Security, SSI or Pension documentation), or a Medi-CAL card.
Recipients can authorize someone to pick up their food kit each month.
To sign up, call 1-800-510-2020 to find you’re the senior center that services your area, or visit the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank website for more information, at www.lafoodbank.org.