Call it rationing.  Call it money management. Call it food insecurity. 

I don’t know who put the fancy label on it, but trust me, when you’re hungry you don’t say you’re “food insecure.” You’re just hungry.

How is it that in such a prosperous country, we have thousands of people going hungry?  How is it that thousands of children go to bed hungry every night? Yet, the number of people visiting food banks is up between two and four times the average from before the pandemic. 

Not nationwide, not statewide, but here in our own community.

In this country it’s a travesty that even one person goes to sleep hungry. It’s even worse now during the pandemic, when so many more are out of work, homeless and hurting.

And it’s just not about those living on the street. I’m talking about the tired woman in the line behind you. The student struggling to study on an empty stomach. The family that can’t feed their children, right here in Encino.

Several local agencies are doing their best to address this problem and insure that the people in their respective areas are being served.

The West Valley Food Pantry provides groceries Monday through Friday.  Before the pandemic they were feeding about 3,000 people a month. A year later and that number has jumped as high as 14,000, with about 120 families coming through each day. The number of truly homeless is only about 100 per week out of that staggering total. They are given food that needs no refrigeration.

Debbie Decker, director of the Pantry, says that they are now seeing people that have never asked for anything before in their life. “We see a lot of fancy cars in line now. There are a lot of movie industry people who haven’t had a paycheck in a year coming to us. We don’t ask questions – our goal is to feed anyone in need.”

Food used to be given to an individual or family just once a month, but with the pandemic “all rules are off” said Decker. They truly give a week’s worth of groceries, including meat, dairy, eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables. If you come more than once a month you will receive food  – but possibly not all the fresh items. 

The West Valley Food Pantry is unique in that they also dispense diapers, feminine hygiene prodcucs and pet food. 

With the overwhelming amount of people who visit the site, monetary donations are welcome and  food donations are accepted.  Items most in need are peanut butter (12-18 oz plastic jars), tuna, canned stews, chili, canned pork and beans, canned soups, canned fruit, and canned vegetables. 

The West Valley Food Pantry is located at 5700 Rudnick Ave., Woodland Hills. Check the website for hours and additional information at westvalleyfoodpantry.org or call (818) 346-5554.

The North Valley Caring Services sees more than 1,000 people go through their weekly food bank.  Cars line up around the block to take advantage of these services.  Each recipient shows their ID to track location, and gives the number of people in their household before they get to loading.  People pull in, turn off their engines, pop the car’s trunk and wait while the staff and volunteers place the boxes in the trunk.  Close the trunk and pull out.  Fast, simple, and socially distanced.  This is a well-coordinated operation. 

Cars in line receive a number taped to the vehicle so there is no jumping the line.  The only verification needed is an ID. While their name is North Valley Caring Services, their food pantry supplies groceries to people all over the valley, with over 400 families along the 101 freeway between Calabasas and Sherman Oaks receiving help between March and December 2020.  The pantry is open on Friday mornings and is located at 15453 Rayen Street, North Hills.Check their website for more information at nvcsinc.org or call (818) 891-0481.

For those without vehicles, or who can’t make the trip to the NVCS food bank, they deliver over 300 boxes of groceries each week. Grocery delivery is available to some participants of NVCS programs.

Sova Food Pantry, part of Jewish Family Services, operates a pantry in Van Nuys, which services the surrounding communities, including Encino and Tarzana.  You must pre-register with SOVA, including proof of residency (a utility bill).  Registered participants may check in and receive groceries once a month.  Unregistered guests will not be served.

Los Angeles Animal Services has stepped up to provide dog and cat food.  Food will be available for pickup from 1 pm to 4 pm, and appointments are required ahead of time. Valley residents can head to the Animal Services’ East Valley location at 14409 Vanowen St. 

There are dozens of local churches and synagogues throughout the area that run smaller food pantries.  There are also places and organizations that provide meals on a to-go basis.  It takes hundreds of volunteer hours to garner donations of food and money to run each of these places.  It is hard work.  It is necessary work. If we all pull together, help each other and give when we can, we can make this a stronger, more caring community.

Laura Levinsky is a life-long valley resident and an advocate for stronger, more resilient communities.