This Sunday, from 1PM to 5PM, the community is gathering to celebrate the birthday of Doors frontman Jim Morrison. The event is taking place at 425 East 4th Street, in front of Jim Coke’s recently erected mural, Flying Morrison, and across from Fingerprints Music, which currently hosts Coke’s photography exhibition titled Wake Up.
The free event will include music performances by Granite Planet, the Greg Carroll Band, the Psychedelic Cosmic Cowboys, and a spoken word performance by Chris Boyle.
In the spirit of holiday giving, the organizers decided to include a canned food drive for Food Finders, inc. This is ironic, because Food Finders’ main mission is to collect and distribute fresh, perishable food. With a very small staff, and a group of dedicated volunteers, they collected and distributed more than 7 million pounds of food this year.
Patti Larson, Executive Director of Food Finders, joined the organization as a volunteer back in 2009. She’d been running her own company, making cheesecakes, and was interested in the issue of food waste. With a technology grant from Boeing, she was hired part time to help with marketing and web development.
“Nobody knew about us,” Larson says. “The organization had been around for 20 years but the name Food Finders wasn’t recognized which, I discovered, was due to lack of marketing and public relations. We’re a rather ‘behind the scenes’ organization.”
Food Finders’ dual missions are to reduce hunger and food waste.
“About 95% of the food we pick up is perishable, fresh food, and it gets delivered directly to any of 210+ nonprofit agencies, shelters, and missions. They’re places that serve meals or provide pantry items to the less fortunate. Our donors are grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, the produce mart in downtown L.A. We work with anyone who has food overages that are still serve-able.
“We also get food from a few Long Beach schools, and the process is usually driven by a parent who’s passionate about rescuing food. We’re also working with some of the LAUSD schools in the South Bay through another parent-organized effort. We’d like to get everyone on the bus, but we find that the schools aren’t equipped or staffed to manage that aspect of what they do–their cafeteria staff is there a limited time and so the donation/rescue aspect would not be part of their limited hours–but we’re working on parent advocated efforts, and even getting the kids involved, which they do at Hughes and Longfellow.
“We have a few staff drivers and a very large network of volunteers who manage our food routes. Some volunteers help out daily, some weekly, some less often or are back up help.”
Food is collected and delivered directly to the agencies.
“That is what makes us rather unique compared to most food banks. The only food that comes back, usually, is canned food that’s collected while we conduct food drives. Occasionally, we’ll get a large pallet or bulk donation of something that needs to be held overnight, redirected, or picked up here by an agency.
“Diana Lara, our VP of Operations, manages the logistics of all the pick ups and deliveries. We call her our Air Traffic Controller. Many are established, regular routes, and we also get calls each day for new or non-regular donations.”
Food Finders operates with a very small staff and, except in very rare cases, does not charge for the collection or delivery of food. Patti explained how the organization is funded.
“It breaks down roughly like this: 28-30% comes from foundation funding, whether private or corporate. About 20% are contributions from individuals, clubs, other organizations. The remainder is from fundraising, direct mail, and a small amount from what we call shared maintenance, which is a requested donation from our agencies to cover minor expenses incurred.”
With so many people moving so much food every day, careful tracking is necessary.
“We report back to our donors regularly, usually monthly. At the end of 2013 we hope to have hit 7 million pounds. We equate it to about 40,000 meals per day. That may be a banana, an apple and some bread, but it’s a lot nonetheless. That’s one of the reasons I am very happy to be a part of this organization. We make an impact. We’d still like to see more hotels, banquet halls, and restaurants jump on board, though.
“At this point, if we reach out to someone, it tends to be a company we have been advised to contact by someone who thinks they are throwing food out. We don’t have the staff to dedicate someone to contacting potential donors as regularly as we’d like, but most of the grocery chains and restaurant chains are already doing their part.”
Larson has been focused on strengthening the sustainability of the organization.
“We’re trying to wean ourselves from foundations and increase individual and corporate funding and, from a growth standpoint, we’d like to feed even more people, but we’re limited by how many donors we add and increased food intake.”
If you’re interested in supporting Food Finders, individual, business, and corporate donations are always welcome, and volunteers are always welcome.
“Call or email us, or send a facebook message. We’re open. There is a volunteer app on our Website that can be mailed or faxed in. We are always looking for volunteers for anything from food pick-ups to administrative assistance to helping pack during the holidays or running events a couple times a year. We take donations online, via mail and, right now, food is being collected all around town or at our office.
“We just love to have more Food Finders Ambassadors, people who will help advocate for us, so if they see a restaurant or caterer who they think might use our services, please spread the word. Sometimes I think people just don’t realize we’re available to pick up and are happy to receive anything from a fruit plate to a case of burgers or whatever.
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