Unwanted food from stores goes to those in need, but problems in LA County threaten program – Daily News

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In Los Angeles County, 250,000 people don’t know if they’ll have enough to eat, but about 1.1 million tons of edible food is thrown away each year in California.

While a new state law mandates that 20% of edible food discarded by grocery stores be diverted and distributed to those in need, getting there in LA County is hampered by common issues among food pantries. disconnected nonprofit. These include staff and volunteer shortages, high transportation costs, lack of storage facilities and funding shortfalls, according to a study released by the RAND Corporation of Santa Monica on Tuesday, June 28.

And the longer edible foods rot in a landfill, along with food scraps from households, restaurants and schools, the longer they release methane, a greenhouse gas that has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide. carbon to cause global climate change.

California State Senate Bill 1383 calls for a 75% reduction in organic waste in landfills by 2025, as well as the diversion of 20% of edible food to make it available to people. RAND scientists and food recovery groups agree the law will be effective in reducing the effects of climate change. including rising temperatures and fiercer wildfires, as well as helping food-insecure LA County residents.

Volunteers Vienna Downes, of Glendale, and Leigh Ann Fernstrom, of Tujunga, pack boxes of food for Stars families in Pasadena on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Stars, a tutoring and mentoring agency for low-income families, s focused on distributing food for their families during the pandemic. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Already, food donations are skyrocketing, said the heads of food recovery and distribution organizations featured in the RAND study and several who spoke during a virtual presentation on Tuesday. There are about 800 food recovery organizations in the county, RAND reported.

“Over the past six months, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of grocery stores reaching out to us,” said Nancy Beyda, executive director of FoodCycle LA, a Hollywood-based food recovery effort that salvages food from all over the world. the count. “These laws can make a difference in motivating donors to participate.”

Before the law was passed, some company-owned grocery stores chose not to donate to food banks, small pantries and distribution programs, often because it required more staff and costs than simply discard day-old baked goods or slightly damaged goods in the trash. trash can.

For 15 years, Beyda literally “dumpster-dived” into a Los Angeles store and collected perfectly edible food, which she then distributed to a women’s shelter in downtown Los Angeles.

“This store was literally throwing out wagonloads of food. I thought, ‘There are all these people who are hungry, this shouldn’t happen,'” Beyda said in an interview. “They just didn’t want to be bothered.”

Recently, a corporate representative from the grocery store, whom Beyda would not name, contacted her and began making regular food donations. FoodCycle sorts through donated goods and donates them to smaller nonprofit food distribution programs, including New Challenge Ministries in the South Bay led by Laura Hernandez, who participated in the RAND survey.

“I think food waste is such a crime because there are so many people in need,” Hernandez said. Her group tries to provide nutritious food to customers. But sometimes donations come and go and it can be difficult to balance what’s in a box of food. “But the demand for nutritious food has doubled in 2022. People are feeling a high level of anxiety (about food supply),” she said.

Picking up a large donation is nearly impossible because the group doesn’t have a big truck, she said. New Challenge works with FoodCycle LA for large donations, as they have a large capacity truck.

Many nonprofits can’t afford a new truck or the price of fuel, just two of many speed bumps blocking full enforcement, RAND reported. Another problem is the lack of refrigerated transport and cold storage facilities, RAND concluded.

Many nonprofits are vying for the same grants, often making them adversaries for funding, the study found.

“Information and resource sharing can be compromised by systemic disincentives to collaborate,” the study concludes.

Finally, LA, the county, and its 88 cities have separate SB 1383 programs, creating silos that may have different rules. Malibu, for example, has a program but no distribution organization within the city limits. It must therefore rely on distribution centers outside the city.

The edible food recovery law only affects large grocery stores this year. In 2024, the law extends to hotels, restaurants, hospitals and schools.

The rules set by the state, as well as the implementation across LA County, have left even experts confused. “This is new law, so there’s a learning curve,” said Danielle Osborne, environmental scientist at CalRecycle and technical advisor for the Edible Foods Recovery Program.

At the LA County Department of Public Works, figuring out who participates in the program has been a challenge. For example, 99 Cent Only stores aren’t part of the program because food isn’t a primary product at those stores, said Jennifer King, food recovery program manager.

“We needed to consult experts for clarification,” she said. “The public can be so confused.”

CalRecycle gives each city or county in the state up to three years to comply with the law before penalties are issued. The agency does not yet have data to calculate how close the county is to the 20% mandate.

King said LA County is focused on education and awareness, not punishment or enforcement. “That’s the last thing we want to do,” she said.

The law does not impose any requirements on the types of food recovered. Once, Beyda’s group received a shipment of pies and cakes. These were delivered to a low-income housing complex, but she still tries to donate more nutritious food when possible.

“A woman came up to me and said, ‘It was our daughter’s third birthday and we didn’t have any money to celebrate. So we used pies. It kind of changed my perspective,” Beyda said.

For more information, visit: www.rand.org/foodrecovery.

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