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Combatting Hunger

Sova, Mazon, Project Chicken Soup among organizations who feed L.A.'s needy.


by Carin Davis

September 26, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Give him chicken soup while fishing, you feed him, teach him and give him a taste of home.

The Los Angeles Jewish Community has launched a spirited multilevel attack on local hunger. Through donations, education, and chesed (lovingkindness), these non-profit organizations, volunteer groups and concerned individuals combat the rampant Los Angeles hunger problem, which was commemorated nationally on June 2.

"The rate of hunger in Los Angeles County is double the national average," said Michael Flood, executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. "Los Angeles residents who struggle with hunger include working families, seniors, children, the disabled, and the unemployed," he said, noting that 1.4 million of the county's 10 million residents have difficulty putting food on the table, and 584,000 of those struggle with resulting health consequences.

While the number of those hungry is helping is inspiring.

Founded by Zucky's Deli owners Hy and Zucky Altman in 1983, SOVA began as a Santa Monica haven where hungry neighborhood Jews could obtain food without questions or red tape. Now a program of Jewish Family Service, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, SOVA continues to alleviate hunger while transitioning people from poverty to self-sufficiency. The emergency food program assists clients once a month, providing personal hygiene products and a four-day supply of food for all family members.

"We act as bridge when clients must choose between buying medicine and buying food. We are a place to come at the end of the month, when the paycheck can't be stretched any further," said SOVA Executive Director Leslie Feldman. "Our fastest-growing client group is working families who just aren't making enough to put food on the table for their young ones," she said.

29.4 percent of Los Angeles households seeking food assistance have at least one employed adult. This working-class needy is often overlooked. "It's not just the people on the street who are hungry, it's your neighbor down the street," said Feldman, who started as a SOVA volunteer in 1998.

Like the hungry-working class, the Westside pantry itself goes unnoticed to most. Nestled on Santa Monica Boulevard near Sawtelle, it's the type of place one drives past frequently, but never notices. The storefront contains several volunteer-occupied desks, an information board, and boxes of client cards -- filled with proof of need, family size and visit dates.

The back section is packed with humming refrigerators and gray metal shelves that are divided into "family" (larger, bulk-sized containers), "homeless" (easily transportable items that don't require cooking) and "kosher" sections. (While SOVA always has kosher food items available for its clients, not all the food it carries is kosher.)

MAZON will distribute a portion of this money to frontline anti-hunger groups and a portion to organizations that educate needy Californians about available government benefits. "Can-collecting will keep people alive today, but direct assistance alone will never solve hunger. We have to teach the needy they have options like food stamps, lunch programs, and unemployment insurance," said Schockman, who believes government-sponsored programs are the key to solving hunger.

Schockman and fellow hunger advocates convened in Washington, D.C. on June 5 for National Hunger Awareness Day. They educated White House and Congressional policymakers on concrete, effective means to reduce the nation's hunger state. "We have the scientific knowledge to end hunger in our lifetime, all we need is the political dedication. The 2015 if it allocates an additional $5 billion a year to the cause," said Schockman.

"Chicken Soup delivers food that I haven't seen since I was a young boy; food that is so delicious," James said. "It's wonderful how Jews from all over help one another, feed one another and how we all love the same food."

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