BY KATE STUZINLOS ANGELES (ANNENBERG MEDIA) - One in five people face food insecurity, according to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank’s 2022 annual report.
The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank’s 2022 annual report, released this month, reveals that one in five people in LA County face food insecurity, driven by high inflation and the end of pandemic-era aid.
In 2022, 110 pounds of food were distributed, down from 133 million pounds in 2021 and 174.6 million in 2020. CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Michael Flood attributes this decrease to the end of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers to Families Food Box Program in May 2021.
“Shortly after the pandemic hit with the shutdown of hotels, conventions, restaurants, schools, it led to a huge surplus of food and at the grower-producer level because their food had nowhere to go,” Flood said. “That pushed the numbers. 2020 was a record year in terms of food distribution because of USDA efforts in identifying surpluses and getting it into our food bank.”
Produce is the number one category the food bank supplies through its 600 partner agencies and food bank distribution, Flood said. He recalled inflation becoming a noticeable factor for the food bank at the start of 2022 and specifically addressed its impact on produce in the mission statement of the 2022 report.
“We changed our mission statement from ‘food insecurity’ to ‘nutrition insecurity,’” Flood said. “Nutrition security is broader, it’s calories and nutrients. People who struggle to meet their needs buy what they can afford, maybe more pasta, rice, and not from the produce section. In communities in South LA, there’s not access to a full-service grocery store, and the restaurant offerings skew more toward fast food. We need to talk about not just food, but what types of food.”
In October 2022, farm-level fruit prices surged by 11.5%, while farm-level vegetable prices soared by 22.4%, according to the USDA’s Food Price Outlook report.
“We’re very fortunate that the USC Dornsife has been tracking food insecurity and we work closely with the researchers there since the pandemic hit,” Flood said. “They’re determining ways to measure nutrition insecurity because it’s newer.”
The USC Institute for Food System Equity published their most recent study in September, revealing nearly one million households face food insecurity, a 6% increase from last year.
While battling inflation, people also dealt with the loss of pandemic benefits from the SNAP CalFresh program in March 2023. This led to an increased dependence on food bank support, with Flood noting an immediate 9% increase in people seeking assistance from them.
The food bank has seen an increase in monthly visitors, serving 870,000 people since the beginning of the year, up from 800,000 served in 2022. The food they serve relies on a combination of USDA donations and private contributions, and Flood says they only purchase a small fraction of their supply.
Low enrollment in CalFresh plays a role in increasing food insecurity. The Director of Marketing and Communications at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, David May, works with a team to contact potentially eligible people for CalFresh.
“We know that the number of people in L.A. County who qualify for CalFresh is still higher than the number of people who are accessing CalFresh,” May said. “There’s people who would qualify and would be able to receive those benefits but may need help identifying how to secure access.”
Au Chung, a junior majoring in political science and public relations, began using CalFresh two years ago. Chung credits finding and applying to the program to their friends and wants to see the university take a more active role in the process.
“While I love that USC has a basic needs program, they weren’t very helpful for me in the application process for EBT,” Chung said. “Students are employed often during the school year and not during the breaks, so the school needs to provide resources to help students understand how the reporting for income goes during those periods because when you don’t have an income, you don’t qualify for EBT.”
Food insecurity is a huge issue for some USC students because of the combined high cost of living and tuition. Chung lives far from campus because of high rent prices nearby and still allocates half of his paycheck to rent. They compensate by using free food resources provided from campus organizations such as the LGBTQ+ center.
The Trojan Food Pantry, which opened in 2016, is another on-campus resource for students impacted by food insecurity. The pantry partners with the St. Francis Center to provide free groceries.
“There isn’t necessarily one of our partner agencies close to community colleges, so, we do a lot of mobile distributions at community colleges,” Flood said. “We’ve had discussions with USC’s food pantry but we have no formal connection. If there’s are anything on our side that could be helpful to the food pantry there, we’re happy to help.”
Angel Bonilla, a sophomore majoring in business and accounting volunteers weekly at the Trojan Food Pantry. Bonilla said food insecurity on campus peaked at the beginning of the semester and the pantry ordered much more food to compensate for the demand.
“The best way to address food insecurity is by taking it at a community level, just because even for people who are facing that need, it might be too much of an inconvenience to go if it’s far away. The USC Food Pantry makes it a lot easier for students to reach those resources. What I’d like to see is just more advertising. A lot of people don’t know about it.”
The pantry operates out of Tutor Campus Center 425A on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Between 100 and 200 students use the food pantry each day of operation, Bonilla said. Students can register here.
“I volunteered at the LA Food Bank a lot last semester,” Bonilla said. “I packed food into boxes, and you’re pretty much by yourself doing, like a factory line. Here at the food pantry it’s a lot more interpersonal. I get to see who I’m affecting.”
Volunteers can work shifts at the food bank Monday through Saturday. The food bank had 16,700 volunteers in 2022, a noticeable increase from 12,000 volunteers in 2021, which Flood attributes to a more “significant need” in terms of the work. Mary Connors took up a shift last Saturday and has volunteered at the food bank facility in South LA since 2009.
“You’re making a direct impact on someone that needs it,” Connors said. “Everybody needs food. Food isn’t a right or a privilege, it’s a necessity, and so many people don’t have access to it or can afford it.”
Kate Stuzin is a journalism major from Miami, Florida. She is interested in covering breaking news, politics, and entertainment stories.
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