Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A day at the food bank

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Today I'm writing about food from a different point of view.

This morning, instead of working at our computers in our comfortable Santa Monica office, about 40 people from my company descended on MEND, or Meet Each Need with Dignity. MEND, a nonprofit in a rough part of L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, helps people and families in need with clothing, food, medical and dental care, and educational programs.
The bulletin board near MEND's food bank offers nutritional information and healthy recipes
I spent my time in the food bank with a dozen of my coworkers, where we sorted through bags of donated food and gathered the edible stuff into boxes to be given away to MEND clients. MEND volunteers drive trucks around the valley to pick up donations. Sometimes these are packaged foods past their expiration date, or day-old bread. They get a lot of produce, too, much of which, unfortunately, has already turned the corner, and which, even more unfortunately, is generally mixed in with the good stuff. MEND is committed to providing clients with fresh produce whenever it can, so the volunteers spend a lot of time sifting through soft, rotten fruit to find the edible pieces within the piles. It's hard work, not the easiest job for which to recruit volunteers, according to Luke Ippoliti, assistant director of MEND's food bank.
Sorting bread
Food boxes ready for MEND clients
MEND serves both local families and homeless people
MEND gets a lot of donations from local Trader Joe's stores
Bread waiting for a home
MEND's food storage facility is huge - boxes piled up to the ceilings
The federal government supplies some of the canned goods MEND distributes
Filling boxes with cereal, beans, canned vegetables and milk
Food bank assistant director Luke Ippoliti in the volunteer-maintained MEND vegetable garden
Some food goes straight to the dumpster - it's spoiled by the time MEND gets it
Over dinner tonight I tried to tell my kids about the outing to MEND. I think it was hard for them to empathize, which is certainly not their fault. They've never gone hungry. They've never done without. When they want something to eat, I make it or we buy it. We try not to waste food in our house, but sometimes it happens: Bread molds, fruit rots, milk sours. As I was sorting through bags of discarded food today, I realized that my normal "throw it out" standards didn't apply at the food bank. If it wasn't spoiled, it went into someone's box. Because when you're hungry, soft bananas are better than no bananas.

I feel lucky to work for a company that considers it important enough to give back to the world that it's willing to pay a few dozen people to spend a day at a place like MEND. Next time I go, I'm taking my kids.

If you live in Los Angeles, MEND needs your help. November and December, leading up to the holidays, are their busiest time. Contact volunteer services director Lupe Martin, (818) 896-0246 x7327 or lupe@mendpoverty.org. They'll put you to work and use your time well.


Hilary Cable said...

MEND was an amazing experience. Thanks for posting about the day, Erika. It does put our good fortune in perspective.

Monet said...

What a great organization...and I'm so glad that you were able to help out there today. You have such a warm and giving heart, Erika, and I'm not surprised to see you doing things like this in your community. You should bring your kids next time! I know that it made a world of difference to me during my childhood and adolescence. And thank you so much for all your kind words and thoughts and messages. They mean so much to me. I'm sending you a hug through the internet. You are amazing.

Barbara @ Modern Comfort Food said...

I love to hear about companies that go beyond paying lip service to community service and do more than encourage their employees to volunteer on their own time. It is so great that you and your co-workers were given this opportunity.

Dorothy at Shockinglydelicious said...

In my former life as a newspaper editor, we had a yearly editorial charity project and affiliated with MEND. It is a fantastic organization.

Lenuska said...

Christmas 2010 :.

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