LOS ANGELES — Food bank officials in Los Angeles and Orange counties are preparing for Thanksgiving week with donation levels they say are at an all-time low.
The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank has 1.3 million pounds of food – just half the amount it had at this time last year.
“The problem is worse than I thought,” food bank spokesman Darren Hoffman told the Los Angeles Times.
“We can make up some with food drives this month, but it will not close the gap. We’re hurting.”
He said the shortage might not affect Thanksgiving meals, but will cut into reserves the food bank needs for leaner months and emergencies.
Food bank officials say a big reason for the drop-off is a decline in supermarket donations.
Supermarket mergers mean there are fewer companies to make donations.
In addition, improved manufacturing and handling practices have trimmed the amount of food that grocers give food banks because of mislabeling, damage or expired labels.
Some products that have been damaged are ending up in dollar stores instead of food banks.
“This year, several grocery stores just stopped giving for a while. Until we hear otherwise, they’ve just stopped,” said Marcella Barba, development coordinator at Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County.
An official with the Food Marketing Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based supermarket association, said he could not immediately comment.
Food bank officials said the problem has been exacerbated by federal Food and Drug Administration delays in distributing surplus cheese and other bulk goods.
Second Harvest, which provides food to 350 local charities, has 650,000 pounds of food, compared with a million pounds at this time last year, Barba said.
“This is a trend we have known about for awhile. But recently, it’s become more extreme,” she said.
“We have been looking at alternatives, including food from restaurants and from local farms.”
Like Second Harvest, the Community Development Council’s Orange County Food Bank has about a third less food that it did last year.
But Director Mike Lowry said more people are in need because new welfare rules have taken people off public assistance but left them with low wages in high-rent areas.
Second Harvest estimates that in any given month, 400,000 people are at risk of going hungry in Orange County.