For the first time in its 47-year history, the Burbank Temporary Aid Center staged a drive-thru food distribution event open to anyone in need this past Saturday morning.
“Having never done anything like this, we really didn’t know what to expect,” said Barbara Howell, who serves as the nonprofit organization’s chief executive officer. “But we were fully prepared for whatever needed to be done.”
What they did do was load 59 cars with groceries that will feed nearly 200 people.
Offering boxes and bags of groceries — provided by local grocers, area studios and media companies, Costco, Sprouts, Logix Federal Credit Union, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and private donors — cars were lined up at BTAC’s Burbank Boulevard location before the event even began.
Along with the food, which was coordinated by BTAC staff member Catherine Bourgeois, everyone who came also received toothbrushes that were donated by the Burbank-based Kids’ Community Dental Clinic.
“We decided to do this drive-thru for a few reasons,” Howell explained. “First and foremost because, thanks to our generous donors, we are well-stocked and want to get the food to those in need. The other reason we did it is to make a connection with those who may be hesitant to come to us for help.”
Explaining that some people don’t feel comfortable about admitting they need assistance and filling out the necessary paperwork, Howell said that last week’s event, which was promoted thorough local schools, the faith-based community and social media, was specifically designed to break down that barrier.
“I personally went through a difficult time in my life when I struggled, so believe me, I understand there is a great deal of embarrassment in having to come out and say you need help,” said Howell. “We understand that, and do all we can to allay those feelings. We designed last week’s event for those who may be hesitant to come in. It gave them the chance to simply drive up, receive groceries and, hopefully thorough a short encounter with one of our volunteers, feel more comfortable with us — with who we are and what we do.”
According to Howell, over this past year BTAC saw a 40% increase in those seeking help — the highest demand in the decade she has been with the organization.
“I would say we are plateauing when it comes to a need of food,” Howell opined. “Don’t get me wrong — we are still at an all-time high, but we are not seeing the explosion we saw during the height of the pandemic.”
Reasoning that the government’s economic stimulus program may be one of the reasons for the leveling off, Howell shrugged and sighed.
“The stimulus has been a great help to those in need,” she said. “But let’s be honest. With the cost of living being what it is in Southern California, you would need to add another zero to those checks to really make a difference.”
Howell said that by listening to her clients, she has learned another reason why the dependency on food may have slowed a bit.
“There are so many kind-hearted and generous people in our community who are willing to lend a hand when it is needed,” she said. “I have heard from many of our clients who have told me they have friends and neighbors who have brought them groceries, prepared dinners for them, and made sure that they have what they need to get by.”
While BTAC has been extremely grateful for all of the food donations they have received this past year, Howell said that what we see now is people who are in need of financial help.
“There are those in Burbank who are doing all they can to get back on track and keep up with paying their rent and utility bills,” Howell said. “Because we do all we can to help them, we are really in need of financial donations to help them keep their homes and keep the power on.”
As for BTAC’s volunteer staff, which dwindled due to the many retired seniors who were not able to be out and about during the pandemic, Howell said that while some are slowly coming back as they become vaccinated, the lack of volunteers is still a challenge.
“I want people to understand that while any offer to volunteer is always greatly appreciated, they can’t just stop by and help,” said Howell. “I know people want to volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts, but there is a certain level of training involved. It’s not just about handing out bags of food. We have to ask our clients the right questions and provide them with the proper types of foods. There are also expiration dates to be conscious of, so proper rotations have to be adhered to. Then, from a front office standpoint, there are numerous regulations and accountabilities, including rules and guidelines that must be followed and accounted for in my reports. So in order to best help our clients, we need people who are properly trained and we greatly appreciate those who can give us that kind of time.”
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. They serve 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.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.