Since 1981, Banco de alimentos Westside has served as the warehouse hub for a network of more than 55 social service agencies with food assistance programs on the Westside of Los Angeles County. It is one of CAFB’s founding food banks and WSFB’s Executive Director, Bruce Rankin, holds the title of current Board Member with the longest Board tenure!
In March of 2020, tens of thousands of households in Westside Food Bank’s service area suddenly became food insecure, many for the first time. WSFB’s team immediately sprang into action by nearly doubling the amount of food it provided to its member agencies while also putting safety protocols and social distancing measures in place.
“People are hungry every day; for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We provide a lot of food to hungry families. I give my heart to it.”
—Milton Gonzalez, WSFB’s Warehouse Manager of more than 35 years
Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, the need for food assistance in Westside Food Bank’s service area remains high – in fact, in October 2021 they saw their highest distribution month in the organization’s 40 year history, and about a third of their food is going to new programs that didn’t exist before COVID-19, or didn’t previously distribute food.
In addition to bringing on new food distribution agencies, Westside Food Bank engaged in strategic partnerships to distribute food directly to communities in need through its new pop-up pantry program. WSFB now operates several weekly pop-up food pantries including one at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus (pictured left with volunteer), which is the largest VA campus in the United States.
Other collaborative efforts include partnerships with the City of Santa Monica for a food distribution at a city park, with Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin for a distribution at the West Los Angeles Civic Center, and with the Culver City Education Foundation on a weekly backpack program and food distribution for students and their families. The food bank has also more than tripled their service to local college students through partnerships with Santa Monica College, UCLA, and Mount Saint Mary’s University.
Westside Food Bank has an official Nutrition Policy to ensure that it consistently provides a wide variety of healthy foods. Bruce Rankin, WSFB’s Executive Director says, “We understand that the folks who are most in need of food assistance are also at the highest risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions that are exacerbated by a poor diet. We provide access to the full range of nutrients because we know that people in need can’t afford to wait for better circumstances to get the good nutrition they need now, and that’s especially true for children.”
Deputy Director Genevieve Riutort has been on both sides of the food assistance equation and that lived experience greatly informs her work:
“I remember how terrified I felt when I didn’t know how I was going to feed my three young children and the overpowering sense of relief I experienced when I learned there was help available. Now I get to be part of providing that relief to other families. It’s incredibly rewarding.”
—Genevieve Riutort, Deputy Director
Westside Food Bank purchases a large proportion of its food from wholesale distributors, and also obtains food from donated sources — most significantly, CAFB’s Farm to Family program. This program accounts for the bulk of the fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, and frozen chicken that Westside Food Bank provides. Farm to Family also provides Westside Food Bank with pantry staples like rice, beans, potatoes, oats, pasta, cereal, hearty soups and stews, and (as pictured left), shelf-stable milk.
“Thanks to CAFB, more than half of the food that leaves WSFB’s warehouse is fresh produce.“
—Genevieve Riutort, Deputy Director
Prior to COVID-19, WSFB’s wide variety of nutritious food was reaching about 110,000 local residents annually. This year, they expect to provide upwards of 5 millionpounds of food for close to 200,000 people including families with children, newly homebound older adults, college students, workers who have lost jobs and wages due to the pandemic, unhoused individuals, people living in domestic violence, transitional housing shelters, mentally ill, chronically ill and differently-abled individuals, transitional age youth, and veterans and their families.
Westside Food Bank has a small but mighty team. Inventory Specialist Quincy Gibson is their newest team member, pictured left with Deputy Director Genevieve Riutort and Executive Director Bruce Rankin. WSFB’s total of 10 employees are deeply dedicated to serving the community. Even after the health crisis is resolved, the economic fallout and accompanying high rates of food insecurity are likely to remain for years to come, so WSFB is working hard to find ways to sustain their enhanced level of service for as long as needed.
All information, quotes, and photos courtesy Westside Food Bank.
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