Los Angeles Times

HELPING HANDS FOR THANKSGIVI­NG

Inflation is making it harder for many people to put the traditiona­l holiday feast on the table. Food banks and community centers are filling the gaps.

- Story by Samantha Masunaga | Photograph­s by Francine Orr

Volunteers hand out turkeys and other items at a giveaway in Watts on Tuesday, top, and in Pasadena, above left and right. Rising food prices are making it harder for people to put the traditiona­l Thanksgivi­ng feast on their tables. Food banks and other nonprofits are trying to fill the gaps.

Higher prices for groceries. Record gas costs. An ongoing pandemic that has meant reduced work hours for some and an inability to work for others. For many people this year, Thanksgivi­ng dinner will be harder to put on the table.

Distributi­on by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank has doubled since 2019, said the bank’s president, Michael Flood. The organizati­on estimates 1 in 4 people in L.A. County experience­s food insecurity.

The average cost nationwide of meat, poultry, fish and eggs is up 11.9% over the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average cost of dairy products is up 1.8%.

Add to that the costs of living in L.A. County, which has some of the highest housing prices in the country.

According to advocacy organizati­on United Ways of California, a family of four in the county with two adults, a preschoole­r and a schoolage child would need to make at least $95,112 a year to meet their basic needs.

“For many, there’s a tighter, limited budget already for food,” Flood said. People are seeing their money doesn’t go as far at the grocery store. Some are skipping things they would usually buy.

“Everything is sky-high,” Wilmington resident Kenneth Gulley, 57, said after he picked up a box of staples — green beans, some fruit, cream of wheat, beef stew — at a local community center this week. “I barely make enough to get by.”

When the weekly food pantry at the Community Resource Center first opened in Wilmington in June, about 50 people came by. By September, organizers say, there were about 100 each week. On Tuesday, people started lining up outside the center an hour before food distributi­on began.

“The need is so great in this community,” said Candace Nafissi, the center’s manager. “People just need help.”

Food banks across the state have reported sustained higher demand — in some cases two to three times what it was before the pandemic, said Andrew Cheyne, director of government affairs at the California Assn. of Food Banks.

“Not only is there acute need still from the pandemic, but it’s going to last a long time,” he said. “We know from the Great Recession that it took a full decade for food insecurity to come back to pre-2008 levels.”

Two families will be sharing the turkey Peggy Scott picked up at a Thanksgivi­ng giveaway in Watts: her family of four, her 94-year-old neighbor and the neighbor’s family.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, a long line of people sat in folding chairs along the sidewalk as a large truck laden with food boxes backed up in front of the neighborho­od pickup site. Distributi­on at the giveaway, run by the nonprofit Parents of Watts and Hensel Phelps, a Colorado constructi­on and consulting company, was due to start at 9 a.m. The first person in line had arrived at 6 a.m.

Alice Harris has led a turkey giveaway in the South L.A. neighborho­od every Thanksgivi­ng for 57 years. “The need is, most of the people are not working now,” said Harris, 87, founder of Parents of Watts, a nonprofit focused on children.

As she watched volunteers pass out turkeys, she said she was “taking care of my kinfolk here.”

At the Pasadena Senior Center, Dorothy Brown sat in the lobby while a chef and volunteers prepared 250 Thanksgivi­ng meals, including turkey, stuffing and vegetables, to be delivered to seniors.

“I do think that people believe everyone in Pasadena is wealthy,” said Akila Gibbs, the center’s executive director. She said 16% of seniors in Pasadena live below the poverty line.

Brown, 83, a regular volunteer at the center, said she wasn’t in dire straits but still needed help this year and welcomed receiving a Thanksgivi­ng meal Wednesday. “I feel blessed to have that to be given to me.”

Cardboard boxes were piled on a table outside the Community Resource Center in Wilmington ahead of its weekly food pantry distributi­on.

This week, there were

‘The need is so great in this community. People just need help.’ — Candace Nafissi, Wilmington Community Resource Center manager ‘Not only is there acute need still from the pandemic, but it’s going to last a long time.’ — Andrew Cheyne, director of government affairs at the California Assn. of Food Banks

canned goods, packaged beef stew and some breakfast porridge.

Anna Velazquez opened her box and was thrilled to see the porridge, which she said has gotten expensive. “It’s hard to go to the market. It’s $20 in the door, and you hardly get anything.”

Rosario Moreno can’t afford to buy as much as she used to at the grocery store because most food staples have become more expensive. “Milk, vegetables, fruit and meat have all been going up in prices,” she said.

Augustin Alejo Jr. is paying it forward. He said he plans to give some of the food from the box he received at the Wilmington Community Resource Center to homeless people in his neighborho­od.

He’s also struggling to pay high rent and now higher food prices.

“Lately it’s been going up and up and up,” said Epimenio Pimental, 79, of Wilmington.

Maria Rivera, 45, said she limits what she buys at the store these days. The food she picked up at the Wilmington food pantry will supplement her regular grocery shopping.

Arceli Siguenza, 39, came to the community resource center with her 1-year-old daughter, Johana. Siguenza has faced reduced hours at work — not the time for higher grocery bills. The sticker shock is affecting her household “a lot.”

Frank van Joolen treats himself to a meal at Denny’s when he receives his Social Security checks.

Van Joolen is single and lives in a studio apartment with a microwave. Getting a Thanksgivi­ng meal on Wednesday meant a lot to him, he said — it reminded him of his mother’s Thanksgivi­ng dinners.

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 ?? Photograph­s by Francine Orr Los Angeles Times ??
Photograph­s by Francine Orr Los Angeles Times
 ?? ?? VOLUNTEERS Rita Reyna, center, and Pedro Arroyo, right, unload 800 turkeys from a f latbed truck at a food giveaway run by nonprofit Parents of Watts and constructi­on company Hensel Phelps.
VOLUNTEERS Rita Reyna, center, and Pedro Arroyo, right, unload 800 turkeys from a f latbed truck at a food giveaway run by nonprofit Parents of Watts and constructi­on company Hensel Phelps.
 ?? ?? PEGGY SCOTT holds a turkey she received at the Watts Thanksgivi­ng food giveaway Tuesday morning that Alice Harris founded 57 years ago. Scott said her turkey will feed her family and her neighbor’s.
PEGGY SCOTT holds a turkey she received at the Watts Thanksgivi­ng food giveaway Tuesday morning that Alice Harris founded 57 years ago. Scott said her turkey will feed her family and her neighbor’s.
 ?? ?? LINDA IFKEIDER holds a Thanksgivi­ng meal served Wednesday at the Pasadena Senior Center. “I do think that people believe everyone in Pasadena is wealthy,” said Akila Gibbs, center executive director.
LINDA IFKEIDER holds a Thanksgivi­ng meal served Wednesday at the Pasadena Senior Center. “I do think that people believe everyone in Pasadena is wealthy,” said Akila Gibbs, center executive director.
 ?? ?? “EVERYTHING is sky-high now,” says Kenneth Gulley, 57, holding a bag of beef stew from a food bank.
“EVERYTHING is sky-high now,” says Kenneth Gulley, 57, holding a bag of beef stew from a food bank.
 ?? ?? MARIA DE FERNANDEZ holds a container of oats she received at a food giveaway in Wilmington.
MARIA DE FERNANDEZ holds a container of oats she received at a food giveaway in Wilmington.
 ?? ?? AUGUSTIN ALEJO JR. plans to share some of the food he received with homeless people in his area.
AUGUSTIN ALEJO JR. plans to share some of the food he received with homeless people in his area.

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