By David Jerome
Several local groups distributing free and low-cost food on the Hill received a set-back this week with news that they would not be receiving their usual distribution from the Western Eagle Foundation. Directors of these groups heard that Western Eagle Foundation has “lost a donor.”
This has affected Mountain Communities Mutual Aid in Idyllwild and Calvary Chapel in Mountain Center. Calvary has already found a distributor for dry goods, essential staples, at least for one week. Pastor Wally Boer said their group will join forces with MCMA to be able to continue to serve the community and find distribution elsewhere.
On the Hill, there are still options for those who depend upon these distributions. Idyllwild Community Center’s program continues at Town Hall on the first Tuesday of each month. ICC President Stephanie Yost adds, “If there are local folks in need that are negatively affected by whatever challenges Western Eagle faces, we are happy to help by making up some mid-month boxes for pick-up from our backstock.” Call ICC’s staff at 951-659-2638.
A Western Eagle employee confirmed this story. “We rely on suppliers/donors. We have one that’s been dedicated to twice-a-week, full semis of product, a relationship of four or four-and-a-half years. Suddenly they’ve stopped; it’s not anything we’ve done. It’s only been 10 days, two weeks since we’ve found out. It’s a lot of product.”
He added that it may be going to other food banks but that he had heard that at least some was “just being dumped.” He explained that their warehouse is not a storage depot. “We have a limited amount of space. With this large a donor, we have to reshuffle; call other donors to try to make up the deficit.”
Waste is common in the food distribution system, and dumping food that is not profitable is a fact of life. This happens at the level of producers, distributors and retailers. Not just food approaching its (often arbitrary) expiration date, but product that is not selling fast enough is discarded to make way for more profitable goods.
A retailer can’t afford to have extra cases of something that isn’t selling quickly taking up space on the floor or in the back room. Much of this food that would otherwise be wasted is donated, with a tax advantage, to food banks. It is a complex partnership between businesses (agriculture, processing and retail) and non-profits (community groups and churches) incentivized by tax codes and facilitated by other government programs, an alphabet soup mostly under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Western Eagle is the largest food bank in Southern California, distributing, according to its website, 400,000 pounds of food each month. It also runs a discount store in Temecula, open to the public, and a food box program.
Most of the food is donated by retailers, including Albertson’s, Von’s, Dairy Fresh, Dean’s, Ready Pak, Royal Produce, Legacy Produce, Costco and Whole Foods. Some food also is purchased to maintain balance in their food boxes.
ICC relies on Feeding America for its food. Feeding America is the “country’s largest food rescue organization,” according to its website. It claims to have “rescued" 4 billion pounds of groceries in 2020. It also estimates that 40% of the food produced in America is wasted, a staggering 108 billion pounds annually.