Local Food Bank Triples in Business, Gets A Bump from Artist Shepard Fairey

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As unemployment spikes and grocery stores struggle to keep shelves stocked, World Harvest bustles and sees food donations pouring in from down-on-their-luck restaurants.

“We have been on a wild ride in the past couple of weeks,” said World Harvest founder and CEO Glen Curado by phone on Friday.

The gregarious food bank operator has been in the middle of an oddly bittersweet tornado of success. While many Angelenos are losing their jobs and restaurants are left with a surplus of food, places like the World Harvest community grocery store in Mid-City have become an oasis for those looking to stock up at a cheap price. Patrons can pay $40 for a large cart of fresh fruit, veggies, bread and even Asian delicacies; or they can volunteer at the food bank for four hours in exchange for an entire cart of food.

Recently, World Harvest has been featured on “Good Morning America,” and earlier today, legendary street artist Shepard Fairey of “Obey Giant” fame announced that he would donate 100% of the profits generated by the sale of his poster “Lotus Angel” next week.

“Lotus Angel” by Shepard Fairey.

“I’m releasing this Lotus Angel print as a fundraiser for those most impacted by coronavirus here in Los Angeles,” Fairey said on Instagram.

“I created the Lotus Angel to inspire hope, compassion, and resilience in the face of adversity. I’m well aware that many people are uncertain about their financial future and that art is a luxury purchase. If you are in a secure enough position to buy this print, look at it as a donation to people in desperate need with this print as a ‘thank you’ gift. 100% of the profits from the Lotus Angel print will be split between the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles and World Harvest Food Bank.”

Fairey, best known for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster added, “I know we are all feeling the stresses of this challenging time, but I’ve been incredibly inspired by the many acts of kindness and generosity I’ve seen. We are separated, but in this together!⁠”

In the wake of Fairey’s charitable announcement and the uptick in demand for affordable groceries, we spoke with Curado to ask him how the pandemic has affected his business — and the community around him.

One would imagine that food banks like yours would see a huge increase in demand due to the perfect storm of sudden unemployment and what appeared to be a food shortage in grocery stores. Is that true?

The number of families that are coming in have tripled. On a Saturday we usually have a line going out to the door. Last Saturday, it was out the door and around our property and past our next-door neighbors’ property.

Glen Curado, with a tray of food, walking past the lines wrapped around his store. Photo by Jessica Priego.

Because restaurants are in such a bind right now, are their donations increasing?

Yes. Our donations from the restaurants have quadrupled. People are dropping off food because they’re not selling what they used to sell.

Unfortunately too, there’s a dark side to it — some restaurants are just closing up. They’re not closing for just a few weeks. They’re closing up because they won’t be able to sustain themselves. Most business owners, if you take away their income for more than two weeks, let alone two months, they’re out of business.

So we have had a lot of businesses come by and just give us their entire stock. And they’re crying. Literally crying when they give us this food. It’s really sad.

In the last few week, Angelenos have gone into grocery stores and they’ve seen empty shelves in the bread section. One of the nice things about World Harvest is you allow families to take as much bread as they want. Has that policy been changed recently?

I had to limit that. In fact, I had a conversation with my bread supplier this morning and she was telling me that they had to cut production back a lot because they cater to a lot of restaurants and hotels.

Grocery stores may have issues keeping their shelves stocked, but World Harvest had to invest in extra freezers to store the influx of items they have received as wholesalers unload their excess. Photo by Jessica Priego.

You are seeing a rise in customers. Who are they? Are they people who have been recently laid off? Are they people who can’t find food at traditional grocery stores?

It’s a mix of both. But not only do we have regular customers — families who have patronized us for the past few years — but now we have professionals walking in the door that have been laid off. I don’t want to name names, but one of our big, big donors came in. They went from 130 employees to 30. And that operation used to run around the clock. Three 8-hour shifts. Now they only have one shift. This is a major, major, major food supplier.

Let’s go back to bread. You were limiting it. Did that work? How much do you have now?

I have zero bread. Zero. The other day we were able to get four racks of bread and each rack consists of 15 shelves. Each shelf has 10 loaves. That flew out in like four hours. And that was with a limit of four per family.

For just $40 — or 4 hours of volunteering — shoppers can fill their carts with fruits, vegetables, proteins and a variety of goods that will help them through the week. Photo by Jessica Priego.

Is there a silver lining to this? Have you seen anything nice happen in the midst of this sadness and fear?

As a matter of fact, you know what has increased? The neighborhood and people with fruit trees and vegetables growing in their yard have been more aware of the situation, and they’re giving us the food from their backyards.

We just had a school that had a vegetable garden. They came in and donated about six big boxes of produce.

And we have neighbors giving us their oranges. This guy brought in these two big heads of cabbage. I’ve never seen cabbage that big before. Twice as big as a basketball. It’s bringing out the best in people.

What about you? Your place is, let’s say cozy. And you are such a personable man. Are you making sure to take care of yourself and social distance from your customers?

I know. It’s very hard. I grew up in Hawaii and that aloha spirit. You greet your friends with a hug and a kiss. Now it’s just “shaka, what’s up?” It’s extremely hard. 

Ron Galperin. Photo courtesy of the L.A. Controller’s office.

Are you doing anything to make the shopping experience quicker for people who just need food but don’t want to be around a lot of other people?

Yes. For $30 we make a box of food. It includes protein, an array of a bunch of things condensed to one big box. At this time, many people just want to get in and get out.

Is it true Ron Galperin, the L.A. controller is going to be there tomorrow?

Yes, he wants to see what’s really going on with the situation here in Los Angeles so he can get a better grasp. It’s going to be amazing that he’s going to come down and help us pass out food and greet people. Maybe this guy who writes the checks for so many in L.A., maybe he will sweep the floor a little bit.

World Harvest is located at 3100 Venice Blvd. in Mid-City. The food bank also has a Facebook page and a profile on Instagram.

Los Angeleno