Co-director of the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry, Jane Poole, speaks to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank about her experience fighting food insecurity and, more recently, during this pandemic.
Fifteen years ago, Jane Poole and her family volunteered at the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry (NHIFP). Ten years later, Jane would become an active member of the board, a title she currently holds. She is the co-director, food purchaser and secretary of the executive board for the food pantry and longtime advocate for serving her community.
Jane and NHIFP are among the 700+ organizations the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank partners within our Agency Network. The partner agencies receive nutritious food from the Food Bank to distribute to their local communities. In 2020, the Food Bank distributed 174.6 million pounds of food and product through these agencies and through Food Bank direct distribution programs.
Without organizations like NHIFP, the Food Bank would not have been able to distribute the equivalent of 143 million meals to the unprecedented amount of food-insecure children, working families, seniors and individuals last year when so many faced and are still living with a pandemic and its related economic fallout in an already-high cost of living in Los Angeles County.
“If you drive around this particular part of the valley and go under a bridge or underpass – you see people living in tents and people living on corners and they’re hitching their areas and we’re right across the street from a park. It is absolutely critical that we help these people because they’re human beings and they need to be served with dignity and they need to be fed,” said co-director Jane Poole.
NHIFP is a religiously diverse non-profit organization that strives to meet the needs of those living with food insecurity. She says, “Our vision is to continue to feed people without interruption, recognizing that there is an unhoused population and a housed population – everyone is equal and we share the love of what we are as the Interfaith Food Pantry and feed as many people as we possibly can.”
With the help of their community, the Food Pantry, which sources most of its food from the Food Bank, served 39,000 people in 2020 alone. Jane says they were serving around 200-220 bags a week and now 320-360 bags a week. The bags include cans of protein, soup, cereal, bread, rice, beans, peanut butter and fresh fruit and vegetables when available.
“Our budget has gone up exponentially and we are very blessed because people have just put their hearts out there as far as monetary donations [goes].
She shares that the Food Pantry has the chance to get to know who it is they are serving and what their needs are, especially during this pandemic when it has fluctuated. “We have people that in this day in time – they’re trying to pay a mortgage, maybe pay medical bills and there wasn’t enough money for food so they’re coming to us for the first time and it’s a very humbling experience – to say the least.”
And as far as the housed population that they serve goes – “they’re in a world of hurt – when this pandemic started we didn’t know what to do. We had to change to a different model – a drive-through model. Before, we had more time to talk to people. We still have a personal relationship with the people we serve. We’ve gotten to know the new clients and we learn what they need. We realize that people are going to have to start paying their mortgages again after the rent moratorium, which means food is going to be tight so we’ve projected the need for food assistance being extremely high after the pandemic realizing this is not going to end – our numbers are not going to dwindle – they may even go up.”
The organization was established 38 years ago by 5 women who saw a need in the community It began in their backyard and then a garage before moving it to a church and synagogue. Currently, the organization holds distributions every Monday and Friday at the First Christian Church in North Hollywood from 7 AM until 11 AM. Those seeking food assistance receive bags of nonperishable food as well as goods from the Food Bank and other different local sources.
During the Food Pantry’s history, the organization has been able to work with all kinds of people and other local organizations and develop partnerships that help the community, particularly the unhoused population.
“We’ve had new people come in and also we work with NoHo Alliance and St. Charles’ Program and between all of our organizations, we can serve the unhoused population seven days a week. We fill the food gap where it is needed – NoHo has food where they cook fresh food and also distribute pre-packed bags for them. They have showers, social services, and St. Charles has a donation center where people can pick up clothes and limited food.”
“We serve the unhoused community differently than how we serve the housed community (or those that have cooking facilities) – so we have bags for the unhoused recognizing they don’t have a cooking facility to cook. We make sure we provide socks for the unhoused and extra bottles of water and pop-top cans of food – things that are easily accessible that have protein in them that can help them survive on the streets.”
Jane says that between the housed and unhoused populations they serve, you never know how many from which population will show up seeking food assistance, however NHIFP has provisions on-site to quickly pack bags as needed. “When people come to us, we don’t ask for IDs, we don’t judge anyone – they come in, they give their name, how many people in their household, and whether this is their first time in the month there or not.”
“As time has gone on – I’ve become more open to people’s needs and realizing that we are all very vulnerable, and we have to be conscious of that and be kind and loving to everyone who comes to our pantry.”
Thanks to the continued support of our community, the Food Bank continues to be able to provide millions of pounds of nutritious food to our 700+ agency partners each week. It is a reminder that there are hundreds of organizations committed to helping our food-insecure neighbors when they need us most. We encourage you to join the fight against hunger if you are able. Together, #WeFeedLA.