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Millions of meals: Alumnus-led food bank meets dire need

  • A person holds a box full of vegetables
    Feeding L.A.:  Michael Flood '84 is president and CEO of the L.A. Regional Food Bank, which has distributed 14.3 million pounds of food, the equivalent of 11.9 million meals, since March. The on-hand inventory totals 8.1 million pounds, or 6.7 million meals, which is approximately a three-week supply.  Courtesy photo
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Under normal circumstances, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank distributes the equivalent of 5 million meals reaching 300,000 people a month. But these are not normal circumstances.
 
In addition to infecting hundreds of thousands across the country, COVID-19 is also causing severe economic strain. Unemployment in Los Angeles County hit 6.3% for March, up nearly two points from a year earlier. That number is expected to get far worse before improving.
 
With those dire numbers, the food bank's demand has risen, and it now distributes more than 8 million meals reaching 500,000 people a month.

In his 20 years as president and CEO of the L.A. Regional Food Bank, Michael Flood '84 has seen earthquakes, wildfires and flooding. But nothing that compares to a global pandemic.
 
"This crisis is more challenging because (it) continues to grow with more people contracting COVID-19 and (more) people dying," said Flood, a four-year starter on the Tribe's soccer team. "The food bank serves 600 agency partners — food pantries, soup kitchen, shelter, youth programs, senior centers, etc. We've already had two staff (members) from our agency partners pass away from COVID-19.
 
"The next unemployment statistics are likely to indicate that 15 to 20% of workers are out of work, which has led to a surge in the demand for food assistance. We are seeing people and families who have worked their entire lives and have never asked for food assistance before."
 
According to the food bank, 14.3 million pounds of food, the equivalent of 11.9 million meals, has been distributed since the crisis began in March. The on-hand inventory totals 8.1 million pounds, or 6.7 million meals, which is approximately a three-week supply.
 
The city's two NFL teams, the Rams and Chargers, have stepped up. The Rams co-hosted a virtual telethon that more than $2.2 million, $250,000 each coming from quarterback Jared Goff and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. The Chargers donated $250,000.
 
Michael Schur, a television producer and writer, set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for the food bank. He promised to match donations up to $50,000 — and grow the neck beard worn by his character Mose in "The Office."
 
As of Monday, counting Schur's match, the donation total was $223,175.
 
Edison International, a public utility holding company in nearby Rosemead, donated a $300,000 grant last week.
 
Because social distancing requirements, workers and volunteers at the food bank must take precautions.
 
"We've had to adjust, but it is working out fine," Flood said. "Some of our food distributions have transitioned to 'drive through' in order to limit the personal interaction between volunteers and people receiving food assistance."
 
On April 10, the food bank held a distribution event at The Forum's parking lot in Inglewood. More than 7,500 families, and an estimated 22,000 people, were given food boxes that included frozen chicken, oranges and shelf items.
 
"Food donations are continuing from retailers, manufacturers, food service companies, farmers and growers," Flood said. "USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is also an important source of food.  We are looking for additional food donations to keep up with the demand.
 
"Very little of our food comes from individuals, (so) we encourage people to donate financially rather than buy food in a store to donate. For every dollar, we can distribute the equivalent of four meals because we leverage food donations. You can't get that kind of leverage purchasing food items retail."
 
Flood is one of at least three W&M graduates who currently head food banks. Karen Joyner '84 is CEO of the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank. Ruth Jones Nichols '96 is president and CEO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. 
 
Flood graduated William & Mary with a degree in government and received his M.B.A. from the Mason School of Business in 1988. The Tribe had a record of 53-22-11 during his four years as a starting midfielder.
 
Flood was an All-American as a senior and selected in the fourth round of the North American Soccer League Draft by the Chicago Sting.
 
"He didn't have the technical background that some of the kids had, but he was such a good athlete," said  Al Albert, W&M's head coach from 1971-2003. "By the time he was a senior, he was the kind of player who could pretty much put the team on his back and carry them. 

"What he's doing now has always been very important. But now, next to front-line health care, it's probably the biggest thing."