Letter from the Executive Director
Recently, I have crossed paths with a variety of agency directors and staff who are “reflecting on the COVID year” we have all just experienced. At Westside Food Bank, we are also reviewing the experience, with an eye to the notions we had, in the past, about what a disaster might look like and how we could respond. Coming out of 2020, we are looking again at those predictions and measuring them against what actually happened during the past year.
The pandemic presented the biggest challenge Westside Food Bank has ever faced. We found ourselves needing to reinvent the ways we supplied our member agencies with food. Westside Food Bank staff did a superb job in devising safe, efficient, and rapid methods of food distribution, as well as coping both with food supply chain disruptions and arrival of large quantities of food from new sources that needed to go out the door as quickly as possible.
We watched as local food needs more than doubled. Our Board increased our monthly food purchasing budget from $75,000 to $150,000 in order to keep up. The number of people we were serving, via 60+ member agencies, grew from 108,000 annually to well over 200,000. We formed new partnerships with local cities, Meals on Wheels, the West LA VA, and the Culver City School District. We boosted food programs for college students in need, particularly at Santa Monica College. Food pantries that were created during the pandemic, including one done in partnership with the City of Santa Monica, now receive a third of all our food.
Above all, we learned important lessons about our stakeholder communities – donors, community members, human service agencies, civic and business organizations, and elected officials. We had always thought that it was important to have good relationships with all of these groups and individuals. In disaster planning, we had predicted that, when the need arose, we could call on them for help.
What we learned was: the need arose and there was no need to ask. They all stepped up before we asked for help. Foundation and individual donors gave more generously than they ever had. New volunteers worked alongside regulars at community food distribution sites. People who had suddenly been laid off – many of whom needed food assistance themselves – showed up to support the Westside network’s efforts in as many ways as they could, given pandemic restrictions. We were surrounded and lifted up by a powerful community of witness, and we cannot find enough words and ways to thank them all.
Our work – and their help – continues, as food insecurity remains significant. This is likely to continue until people can find stability again in employment, housing, health, and their ability to meet basic needs.
In the meantime, we want to extend our profound appreciation to all of you who are helping us to end hunger in our community. On behalf of our Board and staff, thank you.