This past Tuesday afternoon, a maroon-colored compact car pulled up in the parking lot behind the Burbank Temporary Aid Center. Adjusting his mask into place, the casually dressed driver got out and opened the back door, revealing bags and boxes of food items.
Moments later, after unloading his haul into a shopping cart, the man pushed it to the donation receiving area where he was greeted by BTAC Executive Director Barbara Howell; Roger Koll, who serves as the president of the nonprofit organization’s board; and Michael Flood, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
That may not be the reception everyone receives when they make a food donation to BTAC, but not everyone is Congressman Adam Schiff.
Along with making his donation, Schiff, maintaining proper social distancing, worked alongside volunteers in packing food bags before sitting down for a meeting with Howell, Koll and Flood to discuss their challenges and needs.
Providing Schiff with an overview of the changes they have made in their operation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Howell said she has been seeing more people in need of food and personal care items than she previously has in her 16 years at the helm of BTAC.
“We have had so many people come in that we have never seen before — a 40% increase,” said Howell, who went on to explain that while its caseload has increased, its fundraising events have all been put on hold and its volunteer staff has dwindled.
“Our volunteers are mostly retired people, which means they are of the age that is of a higher risk of being affected by COVID-19. Because of that we went from 75 volunteers to 17 almost overnight,” Howell said. “For those who still come in and volunteer on a regular basis, they are true heroes. They are not essential employees, they don’t have to be here, but they are essential to us and they are stepping up in ways that are remarkable, as are so many Burbankers who have made and donated masks to us.”
Flood said the challenges BTAC is having are the same in every city throughout Los Angeles County.
“We are in a tsunami of demand when it comes to people who are dealing with food insecurity,” he said. “I don’t see that ending anytime soon, which means the federal government will have to pass the Heroes Act. There’s just no way around that fact that more funding is going to be needed.”
Schiff agreed and pointed out that the Heroes Act, which the U.S. House passed earlier this month but isn’t likely to pass the Senate, would provide $3 trillion for hospitals, testing and essential workers. It would also extend unemployment, assist small businesses, and provide $100 billion to renters and property owners to help pay rent and mortgages.
“It will provide vital assistance that people need right now,” said Schiff. “So we hope we can reach a compromise and the parties will come together soon to make that happen.”
Schiff also spoke of programs that are underway that will see food that would otherwise be destroyed or left to rot purchased from farmers and made available to food banks. “We should also be letting people use SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and their P-EBT [Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer] cards in restaurants,” he said. “This is an existing program, so we could implement it very quickly. It would do so much to assist people in getting food, while also supporting restaurants that are need of help.”
Turning from the political to the personal side of the pandemic, Schiff shared a story of having just delivered food to an 89-year-old woman.
“She had just come home from the hospital, having had a severe case of pneumonia, and it was heartwarming to see how grateful she was that folks were coming to her door to provide her meals,” he said. “Her neighbors are now looking after her, which I found to be very touching. I have seen so many people rally around each other during this crisis, people who are sometimes in need themselves, looking after one another.”
Howell also shared a heart-wrenching story of a veteran who had recently signed up for BTAC’s services.
“He just kept his head down, but I could see he was weeping,” she said as her voice cracked in emotion. “He said he felt so bad that he was having to do this. But we never want anyone to feel embarrassed in any way. We are here to help and we make no judgments whatsoever. When I was younger, I was unemployed for almost two years and really struggled to survive, so I know firsthand that anyone can find themselves in need of help.”
Before leaving BTAC, Schiff said he knows many Burbank residents are struggling to survive. “There are a lot of people right here in Burbank that are really hurting and just trying to get by, wondering where their next paycheck is going to come from. Thankfully, BTAC, which has been doing such great work for so long, is now an invaluable resource like they never have been before in providing vital support to those in need.”
Schiff also made a plea to local residents who may want to be of assistance to BTAC.
“While the need is greater than ever, the resources they have are fewer,” he said. “People are unemployed, so they are not able to contribute as much. This is a great time to help BTAC if you can. Help them with donations, food, financial resources, and if you are physically well enough, go and volunteer. They really need to meet the challenges that everyone is facing right now.”
Founded in 1974 by the Burbank Ministerial Association and the Burbank Coordinating Council, BTAC provides a centralized source of services for the homeless and those in financial and employment transition. It serves more than 9,000 people annually, providing food, laundry and shower facilities, financial assistance, job placement and case-management help.
If you or someone you know is in need of BTAC’s services, or if you would like to volunteer or make a much-needed financial donation, call (818) 848-2822.
Laurell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.