Every day, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank bustles with volunteers packaging produce and employees loading up trucks full of eggs, meat and yogurt. The food bank is a massive operation, providing 800,000 meals each month—up by about nine percent, compared to 2022— as many Los Angeles County residents grapple with food insecurity.
“The need was already high pre-pandemic, and there’s been a huge increase in need,” said Roger Castle, the food bank’s chief development officer. “When the pandemic started, we essentially had to double our distribution overnight. And with some newer issues, like the workers striking in the entertainment industry, we’re seeing the need increase again.”
Castle said that the need for free, nutritious food is staggering in Los Angeles. He attributes the recent rise in need to several factors, including the March 2023 expiration of pandemic-era federally funded CalFresh benefits, the many worker strikes this spring and summer, and nationwide inflation. Currently, approximately one in four Los Angeles families are food insecure.
“L.A. County is an expensive place to live and we have lots of food insecure people in our community,” Castle said. “Most people think it’s just homeless people, but it’s not. It’s working families who just don’t have enough income to pay for housing and transportation costs and health insurance — and food.”
The food bank, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is equipped with a sprawling warehouse, towering walk-in freezer and administrative offices. However, it typically doesn’t provide food directly to families. Instead, it provides free food to hundreds of partner organizations, which distribute meals across Los Angeles County. The partners include regional food distribution centers, local nonprofits and religious charities.
The food bank has been keeping up with demand through the hard work of its staff, its vast network of volunteers and free food shipments from companies and grocery stores like Amazon Fresh and Gelson’s Markets.
“It’s easy to volunteer and it’s so impactful,” said volunteer Claire Tsao, who lives in the San Fernando Valley and comes to the site to help package food with her family.
Another volunteer, Eunice Pang, started volunteering to earn credits for nursing school. Since then, she’s kept coming back. She’s one of the food bank’s more than 16,000 volunteers.
“It’s amazing to be exposed to the food bank and to give back to my community, while also finding a community of other volunteers,” Pang said.
The food bank also stays running thanks to donations, garnering $37 million in community donations last year.
Castle said one of the most important parts of the food bank’s mission is to provide nutritious, healthy food, as opposed to simply as much processed food as can be purchased. The food bank houses fresh fruits like blueberries and apples, fresh vegetables including lettuce and onions, frozen meat and more.
“There was a time when the mindset was all about calories in and calories out,” Castle said. “But now, the focus is really on nutrition for these families.”
Anyone who is struggling with food insecurity in L.A. can go to www.lafoodbank.org/find-food/pantry-locator/ to find free nutritious food near them.