The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank serves children through programs during the week but also provides food distributions for families throughout the county which help to close the weekend meal gap- especially towards the end of the month when CalFresh benefits have been exhausted. Food Bank partner agency, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, receives food from the Food Bank and redistributes in high-need areas like Rowland Heights.
“We find kids trying to hide food from our free and reduced lunch programs especially on Fridays – especially when there is a three-day weekend.”
– Laurel Estrada, Family Resource Center Coordinator, Villacorta Elementary School
Laurel Estrada, Family Resource Center Coordinator for Villacorta Elementary School, has seen a lot during her time as an educator. The good memories outweigh the bad, but the bad ones do stick. “I’ve had students who have come to school on Monday so hungry that when we gave them food they almost immediately vomited,” she explained. “And then they didn’t want to eat because they were afraid they would vomit again.”
Estrada knows that many families in her community receive some assistance through CalFresh, but that these benefits typically do not last the month which leaves families and children wondering where their next meal is coming from. To address food insecurity in her community, Estrada initiated a partnership with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank by way of facilitating a monthly food distribution with Food Bank partner agency, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation.
“Everything I do is about eliminating barriers for students and families so that children can achieve their potential in school,” she says. “And if hunger is a barrier, we want to eliminate that by providing these food distributions.” The monthly food distribution serves
The monthly food distributions have alleviated food insecurity in a powerful way for participants and their families, which was urgently needed in the community. Villacorta Elementary is part of a community where there is a high rate of poverty, so most students receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school week, but may not know where their next meal will come from over the weekend and experience fear and anxiety about not having access to regular school meals over the weekend.
“We find kids trying to hide food from our free and reduced lunch programs especially on Fridays – especially when there is a three-day weekend,” says Estrada. Children will also often try to save food from school meals or ask for leftovers to take home because they know there might not be a dinner waiting for them after school.
In addition to the toll that food insecurity puts on a child phsyically, it also puts them at an academic disadvantage which can limit a student’s opportunities during and after school. “We know that a good education is a student’s best – a child’s best – opportunity to exit that cycle of intergenerational poverty,” Estrada says.
By donating to the Food Bank, the generous LA community is replenishing food pantries throughout the county and filling up cupboards for more than half a million children and their families, making long weekends a time for fun-maybe homework- but not hunger.