A man came to the Center for Behavioral Research and Services’ (CBRS) door at 1090 Atlantic Ave. the day before Thanksgiving looking for food to feed his family. In the not-so-distant past he would have been sent on his way with his arms full. This time, however, he was told there was no food available and had to be turned away empty-handed.
“We’ve got people who are honest-to-goodness hungry,” said Dennis Fisher, a psychology professor and director of CBRS, a multi-function unit of CSULB dedicated to psychosocial research and services related to community health and social problems. “They are not kidding. They’re not lying or trying to scam us. When that man came before Thanksgiving, all we had was one case of tomato sauce.”
The reason for the food shortage is simple, or not, depending on which story you believe. The bottom line is, however, that food banks across the United States are low on supply. That includes the Los Angeles County: Food Bank of Southern California, which distributes its food among approximately 100 outlets, including CBRS. In the past, the food bank received 40 trucks of food per quarter, but in the last period of 2007, it received just seven.
“Dennis was mentioning to me what a struggle it had been to get food,” said Brian Nowlin, associate executive director of the CSULB Foundation. “So we thought that we have had food drives on campus for a variety of reasons so why not do one of our own and support one of our own programs. We did it in November and had 20 locations across campus and one off campus and ended up with more than 20 boxes of food.”
That worked out so well, in fact, that people asked Nowlin if he was going to do another food drive later.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Why can’t we just do one year-round?’” he said. “It won’t be on the same scale. We’re just going to have a collection box in our office, in the main lobby and at the foundation parking kiosk so if people just want to drive by and leave food with the parking attendant that would be great. And, as we collect enough food we can pass it along.”
So, on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, the “Food from the Heart” program was launched on campus.
“We really appreciate what Brian and the foundation is doing,” said Fisher. “The safety net is just really thin in Long Beach. I mean, they are in really bad shape. We were hoping things would get better in the first quarter of 2008 and it’s not clear what’s happening as far as the food goes, but whatever it is, we have people hungry now.”
In some cases it’s so bad, according to Fisher, that people come to the CBRS waiting room to take advantages of its services and are so hungry they eat right out of a can while sitting there.
“This is not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of necessity,” said Fisher. “This is not something they are doing because they are lazy; it’s something they do because they are that desperate.”
And, for the first time since he became CBRS director eight years ago, Fisher said there is evidence “the street” is keeping track of when food delivery takes place.
“After we get the food delivery, all of a sudden now we’re getting jammed with people,” said Fisher. “That never used to happen. The cycle used to be that we would get a lot of people at the end of the month right before they get their welfare checks, but that’s not the case any longer.”
Fisher also pointed out that lack of food not only creates hunger, but it drives other criminal activity as well.
“What are you going to do when you’re hungry, when you and your family don’t have any food to eat?” he said. “What that means is that you have women in the family who are going to go out and prostitute themselves; you have men in the family who are able bodied who then go out and commit other crimes. They do whatever they have to do for the basic necessities to survive.”
To donate food to the CSULB Foundation Food Drive, visit the lobby of its building or drop off food at its parking kiosk. For more information, call 562/985-5537.