The sun had not yet risen above the Verdugo Mountains as a convoy of trucks, vans and cars pulled into the parking lot of George Izay Park this past Saturday morning.
Coming to a halt between the ballfields named in honor of longtime local athletic coach Jack Smock and Barbara Rownd, a city employee who pioneered the establishment of organized female sports in Burbank, a contingent of men and women on a mission spilled out of the vehicles into the dark.
By the time the day had dutifully dawned, the parking lot was filled with dozens of pallets of cereal, soup, cooking oil, bags of flour, containers of oatmeal, canned goods, and other non-perishable food items that the work force distributed into blue bags donated by the GAIN Federal Credit Union.
On the North Griffith Park Drive side of the park a queue of cars snaked down to Olive Avenue and around the corner, all the way to Victory Boulevard.
At 8 a.m., Home Again Los Angeles CEO Albert Hernandez, who was co-chairing the morning’s drive-thru grocery dispensing event for those in need signaled to the gatekeepers, Carrie Prado, the organization’s director of programs, and Janice Lowers, who serves on the nonprofit’s board, to get the cars rolling up to the distribution area.
Co-chaired by Deborah Weirick, who heads up the organization’s board, and sponsored by the Southern California Gas Company, who was represented by their Public Affairs Manager Marisol Espinoza who presented Hernandez with a check for $75,000, the day would see over 300 cars loaded with provisions to suit each family’s needs.
“It’s a privilege for us to be able to participate in this event and to provide a grant to Home Again Los Angles because we know there are many people who are struggling to get by,” said Espinoza as she handed a bag of food to state Sen. Anthony Portantino to place in the back of a waiting car.
“On behalf of all of us at Southern California Gas, we are proud to be able to provide this help as a part of our ongoing commitment to the communities we serve,” Espinoza added.
Along with Burbank Chamber of Commerce CEO Jamie Keyser Thomas and her husband Michael Thomas, more than 40 volunteers from the Rotary Club of Burbank, Glendale Sunrise Rotary, Burbank Sunrise Rotary and GAIN Federal Credit Union served as the force who packed up and distributed the food at last week’s event.
The day’s youngest volunteer, Ella Williams, who is an 8-year old student at Roosevelt Elementary School, was tasked with making sure every bag was packed with canned goods and bags of flour.
While Michael Thomas was loading up a bag of staples for a large family, Ella made a suggestion.
“I feel like they could use two bags of flour,” Ella told Thomas after placing the first one in the bag.”
Thomas double-checked on Ella’s call. “You think they could really use two bags, huh?” he asked.
“Yes, I do,” she said as she handed him a second bag.
“Sounds good to me,” Thomas responded, as he carried off the groceries to the family’s waiting car.
Along with offering his gratitude for the financial assistance from the Gas Company and the volunteers, Hernandez also lauded his staff members for their dedication.
“For those of us who deal with those who are having financial difficulties on a daily basis, we know there are a lot of people who still haven’t come back from the challenges of the pandemic,” said Hernandez.
“Then, we also have so many people in our community who work in the entertainment industry, who have not been getting a paycheck due to the writers and actors being on strike. That, or course, also effects workers in many of the non-entertainment businesses in our area, so we are hoping what we are doing today will be of help to them,” he added.
Hernandez and his team are now turning their focus to next month’s annual Empty Bowl event scheduled for Oct. 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at St. Finbar Church located at 2021 W. Olive Ave.
The yearly event brings together staff and supporters for a soup luncheon donated by local restaurants that includes opportunity drawings, entertainment, and the opportunity to select a handmade ceramic bowl.
Since 2010, Home Again Los Angeles has worked with local unhoused families to help them achieve lasting independence. Partnering with a network of local governments, interfaith congregations and volunteers, they provide safe shelter, meals and support services such as counseling and job readiness for those in the Burbank, North Hollywood, Glendale and Eagle Rock areas.
For more information about the organization’s work, volunteer and support opportunities, and the Empty Bowl event, visit HomeAgainLA.org.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.
First published in the September 2 print issue of the Burbank Leader.