When Brenda Mata was eight years old growing up in East Los Angeles, she recalls someone coming over to visit them around the holiday season. The stranger was delivering a box full of toys, food, snacks and pizza – an all-time favorite among children.
She and her brother were excited to receive so much stuff until she glanced over to see her mother’s expression. Although she was grateful and happy to receive so many goodies, Mata recalls that her mother showed a glimpse of shame.
Growing up, Mata didn’t realize her family was food insecure. Like good parents, they made sure that their children were fed and full every day. But they themselves would at times go to bed, or work, hungry and with the lingering thought of whether or not they would be able to provide a meal for their children the next day.
Years passed and Mata became a teacher. Looking to give back to her community, Mata was presented with the opportunity to become the Program Coordinator at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank Partner Agency Eastmont Community Center, and without hesitation, she accepted the position.
One day over the holiday season, as she and her team were preparing boxes to deliver to clients around the neighborhood, she realized the box looked very familiar; a box full of food, snacks, toys for homes with children and pizza.
“I just remember kind of catching myself – I didn’t even know,” she said. “I ended up in the same place that helped us. For me, it’s always been important to give back.”
Now as an adult with young children, and in an active position to help, Mata wants those in her community to get the help they need without feeling ashamed.
Every Friday, Mata and her team welcome hundreds of people from the surrounding neighborhood who are in need of food assistance. While there are many who show up to the distribution, she hears of those who feel ashamed to ask for help, refusing to stand in line in a public setting.
“I think I’m passionate about it because I don’t want our community to feel ashamed to ask for food, because I don’t think anybody should be hungry,” Mata said.
“My goal is to make it welcoming and do it in a way where we’re giving with kindness and respect; making sure they understand that this isn’t a handout. You’re providing for your family in a different way, but you’re still providing,” she added.
To this day, Mata does not know who submitted her family’s information to receive food when she was a child. Regardless, she’s grateful that over the holidays, a season of giving, someone in her community cared enough to bring her parents peace of mind, whether it was through providing their information or donating to purchase the delivered goods.
“I am a product of your donations, I was a youth here in East LA,” Mata said. “I am a product of the Food Bank and Eastmont because I received food from you, thanks to the donations that the Food Bank has received. You want more people to be able to give back to their communities and watch them grow and better their situations, and that’s what we try to do.”
Like many clients of Eastmont Community Center, there are millions of individuals in Los Angeles County that are food insecure. The Food Bank relies on generous donations to help support Partner Agencies like Eastmont. If you are in a position to do so, please donate now. Together, #WeFeedLA.