For eight years now, the SANTA Monica Pub Crawl has attracted thousands of people looking to have a good time while doing good for the community.
This Saturday, the festive tradition continues, giving people the opportunity to have fun while supporting the Westside Food Bank, the Santa Monica-based nonprofit that provides 4.5 million pounds of food each year to more than 70 local social service agencies from the Santa Monica Mountains to LAX.
Every year, the SANTA Monica Pub Crawl generates thousands of dollars to help the Westside Food Bank, said Michael Girsback, the development assistant for the organization and one of seven staffers.
In 2015, the Pub Crawl, which is organized by Spin Public Relations Group, generated more than $22,000. That was enough to buy more than 100,000 pounds of nutritious food. For every $1, the Westside Food Bank is able to provide four meals, Girsback said.
To find out more about the event, to volunteer, or to buy tickets, visit santamonicapubcrawl.com.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Girsback. “We’re happy to be a part of it.”
The services provided by the Westside Food Bank remain as vital as ever.
“The economy has gotten better but the problem of hunger isn’t going away,” said Barbara Whittenburg, president of the Westside Food Bank’s board of directors and a long-time resident of Santa Monica.
Bruce Rankin, executive director of the Westside Food Bank, agrees.
“Demand [at the food pantries] remains just as high” as it was during the Great Recession, he said. Unemployment is down, Rankin said, but many people are still underemployed.
Part of that demand is driven by the high cost of housing, especially in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles where rents are among the highest in the County.
“A large percentage of income, especially for the working poor, goes to housing,” Whittenburg said.
According to a report by the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing (SCANPH), “Los Angeles County’s lowest-income renters spend 71 [percent] of income on rent, leaving little left for food, transportation, health expenses, and other needs.”
Government programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — or CalFresh in California — help, but often don’t provide enough for families to get through the month or to buy the nutritious foods that are vital to long-term health.
With the arrival of a new presidential administration, there is concern that programs like SNAP may be rolled back.
“If SNAP starts doing less,” Rankin said, “we could expand by five times and still not fill the need.”
The Westside Food Bank serves about 70 agencies, including several in Santa Monica, like OPCC, Delaware Avenue SDA Food Pantry, Salvation Army, Church on Pearl, and St. Anne Social Service.
Still, the Westside Food Bank continues to expand its reach and has recently begun two new initiatives: one with the West Los Angeles Veterans Association (VA) and another with local colleges.
“There is a push to do something more profound to help our vets,” Whittenburg said. The Westside Food Bank helped establish a garden for vets at the West L.A. VA campus.
And, Rankin noted, the Westside Food Bank has a mobile food pantry that visits the campus regularly with fresh produce.
Whittenburg also mentioned that by February, the Westside Food Bank anticipates it will have established food pantries at Santa Monica College and West L.A. City College to help address the problem of student hunger. Already, the Westside Food Bank has a food pantry at UCLA.
Focus on nutrition is key to the Westside Food Bank’s mission. Rankin pointed to the organization’s nutritional policy, which reads:
“We recognize that as the main supplier of food to multiple member agency programs, the food bank’s choices in food acquisition have a large impact on the choices available to our member agencies. With chronic conditions such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity on the rise, we take seriously our role in providing the best nutrition possible. Therefore, our policy will promote foods that will help provide a healthy, balanced diet for the clients of our member agencies. Our policy can also serve as a model for other organizations in our community that seek to address challenges of hunger and health.”
Rankin said about half of the food weight that goes out of the organization’s warehouse is fresh produce.
During the holidays, the handful of staff keep busy. While demand for food is year-round, donations tend to go up during the holiday season.
“People are feeling more generous this time of year,” said Whittenburg.
For more information about the Westside Food Bank, to donate, or to volunteer, visit wsfb.org.