Signal Hill-based Food Finders sees more donors and funders this year, but demand remains high

<strong>Barrels are placed in several locations throughout the city and food items are collected by Food Finders as part of the Long Beach Community Food Drive that runs through Dec. 31.</strong>

Barrels are placed in several locations throughout the city and food items are collected by Food Finders as part of the Long Beach Community Food Drive that runs through Dec. 31.

Sean Belk
Staff Writer

Food Finders, a multi-regional food bank headquartered in Signal Hill, saw more donated food items and financial contributions from businesses and individuals in 2012 over last year, but demand for assistance remains relatively high, according to representatives from the organization.
“We’ve had a really good year,” said Patti Larson, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We’ve had a lot of new businesses participating and some voluntarily dropping off food… there’s still a lot of agencies looking for food as usual, and there’s still quite a few families out there that need help… We’re just happy we’ve been able to provide as much as we can.”
The local food bank, which distributes donated food from hundreds of local grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants and produce markets to nearly 270 missions, shelters and social-service agencies in the local area, is still accepting donations as part of a “holiday food drive” that runs through Dec. 31. The organization’s last push for the holiday season will be on Jan. 12 during an event called “The Gift” that aims to feed 100 families.
But, so far this year, a preliminary tally of activities shows that the number of food donors, such as grocers and caterers, increased 10 percent over last year, and the number of major funders that contribute grants and money jumped 20 percent over 2011. As of mid-December, the nonprofit had rescued nearly 7 million pounds of food this year, enough for more than 14.9 million meals, according to a newsletter.
Diana Lara, vice president of operations for Food Finders, said the organization has seen an “outpouring of grants and donations” and received more exposure in recent months through social media, brochures and speaking engagements. “We’ve been blessed this year,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing things grow.”
It’s been a little more than a year since Food Finders, which was founded by Arlene Mercer (now executive director emeritus) in 1989 out of her Seal Beach home, moved to a warehouse at 2301 E. 28th St. in Signal Hill from its former location on Atlantic Avenue. Lara said the move in November 2011 has allowed the nonprofit to stay more efficient by using a smaller house where people can pull right up to the back to drop off or pick up food items. She said the group now has a food scale that was donated by an employee.
In addition to the new digs, the organization has also gotten more exposure through its van and truck with the organization’s logo this year used to pick up and drop off food items. Food Finders has also been able to put on a virtual bake sale, a swing dance and a wine tasting this year, all new events that have helped broaden the organization’s reach, increase income and introduce the nonprofit to more people in the community, according to the nonprofit.
During the holiday season, Food Finders partnered with Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, the Friends of Long Beach Animals and We Love Long Beach to put on the annual Long Beach Community Food Drive for the fifth consecutive year. Since Nov. 5, barrels have been placed in several locations throughout the city to collect canned or packaged food and pet food for needy families and individuals in the Long Beach area.

<strong>Food Finders, a multi-regional food bank that moved to Signal Hill last year, rolls out its branded van and truck to pick up and drop off food items</strong>

Food Finders, a multi-regional food bank that moved to Signal Hill last year, rolls out its branded van and truck to pick up and drop off food items

Food Finders collects from several drop-off locations and then distributes “family boxes” that are donated to more than 100 organizations in the area. The meal boxes include such food items as cranberries and stuffing, gravy, vegetables, a turkey or ham, in addition to breakfast items, snacks for kids and sometimes toys as well.
Most of the organizations the nonprofit receives food from are located in Long Beach or surrounding cities, in addition to some from the South Bay area. The food bank also partners with So Cal Harvest, which “gleaned more fruit to donate than ever before, including citrus, avocados, persimmons, guavas, pomegranates, peaches and apricots.”
Although the flood of donations and contributions received during the holidays is always welcome, Lara she would like to make the food drive a continual effort since nonprofit agencies have needs year round and don’t have refrigeration. Other than a canned-food drive coordinated with the U.S. Post Office, the nonprofit doesn’t receive a lot of canned food, she said.
“We’re grateful for the donations that we receive during the holidays on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there’s 363 days of the year where we’d love to have this kind of outpouring,” Lara said. “We’d love to continue the food drive ongoing, so that we can provide these kinds of family boxes out there during the rest of the year.”
Still, the demand for perishable and nonperishable food items remains fairly high for many food banks in the area. According to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the high unemployment rate and less government handouts continues to pose challenges for the food bank and the 640 agencies it serves as demand continually outpaces supply for assistance.
“With an estimated 1.7 million Los Angeles County residents struggling to get enough food, support will be critical to meet the demand for the remainder of the year and into 2013,” said a statement on the organization’s website.
Although the food bank has collectively been able to increase food volume in an attempt to meet the growing demand, Los Angeles County continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation and the demand for help is increasing, according to the organization. Last year, the LA food bank made a decision for the first time in its history to institute a waiting list for prospective new agencies.
For Food Finders, food intake this year compared to last year was “about the same,” said Larson, who added that a lot depends on whether food pantries and charities are organized and don’t wait until the last minute to request handouts. “We can’t always meet every request 100 percent,” she said. “It depends on whose asking.
John Knapp, president of the Foodbank of Southern California, which has operated out of two warehouses at 1444 San Fransisco Ave. in Long Beach for 27 years, is considered the largest independent food bank in the nation and the most “cost effective” as well, serving 43 million pounds of food per year to over 700 nonprofit agencies, feeding senior citizens and hungry children.
He said the food bank, which partners with Food Finders, has been able to save during surplus years in order to keep supplies steady during down times. While other food banks are “cutting programs and laying off people,” Knapp said the nonprofit has grown its supply of fresh produce and has increased its food output by 5.5 percent this year. “We’ll be here for the long haul; hunger is not a short term problem,” he said.

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