World Harvest Food Bank

Aug17Harvest On a day of new beginnings, Kendra Ogletree is eager to get home with her cart full of groceries to start making all-natural, homemade juices.

Finding herself jobless, ill, and caring for a son with autism, she says she is praying her way back onto her feet as she transitions out of homelessness. She just finished her first 4-hour volunteer shift at World Harvest Food Bank (located  just outside TNN's southeast border). As someone who grew up advocating for various public assistance programs, she never thought she would find herself on the opposite end of the spectrum. As a new patron of World Harvest Food Bank, Ogletree is volunteering her time in exchange for groceries. 


“It makes me feel good that people are available when you really need them,” Ogletree shares, with tears in her eyes. “It’s hard to humble yourself when you were the one who always gave.”

World Harvest Food Bank founder Glenn Curado hugs he r and says, “As long as we are here, you’ll never go without.” 

The premise is simple. If a family needs food assistance, they can pay $35 in cash or EBT for a cart full of groceries. If $35 is more than the family can afford, they have the option to volunteer 4 hours at the food bank to gain access to the facility’s inventory. Volunteer tasks include moving pallets, greeting people at the door, sorting through produce, or organizing products on shelves. The administration places volunteers, including disabled individuals, according to their physical capabilities and preferences.

World Harvest Food Bank welcomes everyone. Curado says he will not stop until every single family in Los Angeles goes to bed with food on the table. With homelessness rising 23 percent in the past year, food insecurity is a growing challenge for Curado’s mission. 

Although the goal is to serve those who have a legitimate need, he doesn’t turn away anyone and doesn’t question anyone’s need. The food bank’s model weeds out people who want to take advantage of the system, he says. Anyone who lacks the $35 membership fee and refuses to volunteer his or her time, receives an emergency food bag until he or she can exchange time or a fee for access. People fearing the “four letter word — work” are unlikely to return, Curado says.

The founder and his son Brandon attribute part of the program’s success to outreach via social media, phone calls to existing members and word of mouth. 

World Harvest also distributes food through a network of partner agencies, including other food banks, homeless shelters and school programs.

Members gain access to a full inventory of goods, from organic potatoes to Rip Curl clothing. Upon completing a short registration form, a representative walks patrons to the pre-loaded shopping carts. The initial boxes typically consist of fresh produce and depend on how much inventory has been delivered, how quickly it must be distributed, and how much foot traffic is expected. 

Generally, patrons seem to walk away with much more food than they can possibly consume. Therefore, they’re encouraged to share their groceries with neighbors and friends.

In addition to receiving goods from Trader Joe’s and other grocery stores, Curado and his team say they procure organic produce and seek local growers as often as possible to offer quality fruits and vegetables. An anonymous patron shares the contents of her most recent shopping cart: potatoes, squash, avocados, artichokes, beet microgreens, tatsoi, corn, cilantro, kiwi, blackberries, strawberries, romaine lettuce, two trays of heirloom tomatoes and a gallon of milk. Plus, she offers a tip.

“Tuesday is the day specialty produce is delivered, so that’s my favorite day to go to World Harvest,” she said.

Patrons can request specific items or move into the warehouse aisles to browse. Much like a general store, goods are organized into sections, such as health and beauty items, canned goods, snacks and even aisles dedicated to ethnic foods and new clothing.

The donations, Curado says, are used for transportation, maintenance and administration costs. From the beginning, he says has been careful about the origins of his funding and has strayed away from grant-driven operations. The food bank collects information in a registration form to to forecast future need and and for outreach purposes but never to collect and pocket state or federal grants, he insists. 

He shares a story about one of his first large donations from a private corporation. When the donor restricted who could be helped with that funding, Curado says he voided the check and returned it to the sender, establishing a no-strings attached policy with donors.

Among the donors featured on World Harvest’s marketing materials are Home Depot and Bloom Farms, a “socially responsible medical cannabis” company that provides a meal for every purchase made in their shop. To date they have provided funding for 500,000 meals in various state non-profit food banks. 

Curado’s introduction to public assistance system wasn’t too different from the stigma Olgetree faced. A sudden trip to Hawaii to care for his ill mother resulted in a wrong turn for his restaurant. By the time he returned, he realized he lost everything. He recalls sitting outside a welfare office for hours, unable to walk in, blocked by shame. The need to pay rent and feed his children pushed him through the door the following day to face what he says were judgemental looks from case managers. Taking that memory with him, in addition to being scolded while volunteering at food banks for sneaking extra food into the bags of homeless people, Curado says he woke up one morning with a clear purpose to open a food bank and a detailed vision of what it would look like.

Starting with a 10,000-square-foot lease in the Pico-Union district, he started building relationships, not only with donors and local officials who call him “Glenny,” but with patrons such as Ogletree who walked an hour from the Normandie-Adams area to volunteer for half a day; or Jose, who has volunteered for 8 years; or the elderly couple who graciously cooks, delivers, and serves food for volunteers every single Saturday. 

Ten years later, in a new location and with a much greater clout in the community, Curado and his family have staked a significant place in the community for establishing what he calls a sustainable food bank model in which people walk away with smiles on their face, rather than shame in their eyes.

3200 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90005

Hours: Monday - Friday - 8am – 6pm,    Saturday. 8am-3pm

Phone: (213) 746-2227
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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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