Fri, Jun

LAUSD Persuaded to Stop Trashing Good Food and Help Feed the Homeless

MY TURN - Listening intently at a community forum, Robert Brandin raised a single question that caught the Los Angeles Unified School Board incumbent off guard.

“How come we waste so much food in LAUSD and what can we do about it?” asked San Pedro resident Robert Brandin, 62, who like many others has faced dismay for decades that uneaten, federally-funded school meals were tossed into trash bins by the thousands due to health regulations and federal stipulations.

Richard Vladovic, who was re-elected to his seat in March, answered that the district was following regulations, which sounded “hollow,”  Brandin said.

But within a few minutes, David Kooper – Vladovic’s chief of staff – brainstormed with Brandin and agreed that the district’s rules needed changing. Last week, the LAUSD parent got his wish when the school’s attorneys and county officials agreed food could be turned over to non-profit organizations, churches and others who issue food to the needy.

Already 70 groups have rushed to become part of the program and twelve have turned in paper work to the district, said David Binkle, LAUSD’s deputy director of food services. The program is expected to be kicked off next week.

For Brandin, it was a great gift, who is gratified that now 22,000 district meals a day –once headed for the wasteland during one of the worst economic downturns in the United States since the Great Depression– will feed nutritious meals to those who can’t afford to feed themselves.

“It was just someone like me, a simple ordinary person who wanted to talk to someone who wanted their job back,” Brandin said, who is still surprised by what happened.  “It’s the best outcome we could have hoped for. This worked, but it was all about timing.

“But I won’t feel warm and fuzzy until I see the non-profits getting the food out to the people.”

Kooper, who helped arrange the change, said that revisions in the Good Samaritan Act made it possible for the district to change its food-dumping course. Outside organizations that use the food will then be responsible for any potential liabilities that could arise.

“It was a good idea and it was just easy,” Kooper explained. “Come on. From a social services standpoint, it’s probably one of the biggest things the district has ever done. It was just a perfect storm of things that happened. The district has received “good feedback” and “everybody wishes we could have done it before.”

Calling Vladovic and Kooper “champions,” Binkle, the food service deputy, said the massive effort to work with the county and change the regulations “is unbelievable.”

“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s common sense,” Binkle said of the new program, who added the district makes 650,000 meals a day through the federal meals program. “We know all the issues now of the unemployed. It’s needed.”

Eighty percent of LAUSD students qualify for a free or reduced lunched meal, Binkle said, and added that food services employees have complained to the county and other agencies in the past but had gotten nowhere to change the rules.

Nobody was happy tossing meals, Binkle said, but all their requests went unheeded.

For years, parents – like Brandin and myself – have long complained about the food waste. Many of us took it to our principals, arguing against fresh apples, juices and uneaten meals being tossed at the end of the day – a frustrating experience when so many families can’t afford to even buy their groceries.

Principals would always promptly respond that their hands were tied due to health regulations.

Brandin  said he was moved to action after listening to a former LAUSD cafeteria manager, one of his relatives. She complained profusely about the waste and called it sacrilege – which made him take it to the top.

Food isn’t the only endeavor on Brandin’s list. For the past three years, he has volunteered at San Pedro High, where his son Nick is a 17-year-old senior. He aides students in earning  government community service hours.

“I’m all about our students and to find ways for opportunities,” Brandin said.

And I believe him.

(Diana Chapman has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at:   [email protected] or her website theunderdogforkids.blogspot.com ) –cw

Tags: San Pedro, LAUSD, Robert Brandin, School Board, Richard Vladovic, homeless, Good Samaritan

Vol 9 Issue 46
Pub: June 10, 2011