Even though the economy is doing well, hunger is still a major issue for
many people. In fact, the South Bay has the highest level of food insecurity
in all of LA County, according to a report by the county’s Public
Health Department. Because so many families are going hungry, Torrance
Memorial Medical Center helps fund the FISH food pantry, as part of its
Community Benefits program to improve the overall health of the community.
The 41-year-old FISH, run by San Pedro’s Harbor Interfaith Services,
differs from other area food pantries. FISH does not offer weekly food
handouts. Instead, FISH is an emergency food pantry, providing enough
food to feed a family three meals a day for three days but limiting clients
to four visits per year. In 2015, it served more than 11,000 people.
Taking its name from the old proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you
feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,”
FISH follows a similar philosophy for helping its clients become self-sufficient.
“It’s more than giving food; it’s providing the case
management services to go along with it,” explains Tahia Hayslet,
Harbor Interfaith Services’ executive director. “Our job is
to figure out what brought our clients to us and connect them to resources
so they’re not depending on us on a daily or weekly basis. We look
at their situation and see why it is they can’t make ends meet.
Is it finding more affordable housing? We have landlords they can work
with, funds to help them move or offer security deposits. Is it helping
with job skills to find employment to increase income? We can help them
get training. Is it about extending the budget? We can help them get CalFresh
subsidies. We also hold monthly workshops on subjects such as parenting,
nutrition, shopping on a budget and stress management.”
Claire Coignard, Torrance Memorial’s director of health education
and Health Links, explains that this unconventional approach of offering
case management along with food, made FISH and Harbor Interfaith Services
an ideal organization for the hospital to “adopt” through
the Community Benefits program.
“They’re not giving a handout, they’re giving a hand
up,” says Coignard. “They’re doing so much more than
just giving out food and that’s why we’re supporting them
through our Community Benefits program.”
Torrance Memorial began helping to fund FISH during the recession, when
demand for the food pantry services was especially high. Since then, the
hospital has provided $150,000 in cash, approximately $25,000 each year.
FISH was founded in 1975 by the South Coast Ecumenical Council (now known
as the South Coast Interfaith Council), a collection of faith-based organizations,
to provide food to the community when the once-booming South Bay fishing
industry began closing. By the early 1980s, homelessness was a growing
problem and Harbor Interfaith Shelter was founded. In 2002, realizing
there was an overlap between people using the shelter and the food pantry,
the two merged to form Harbor Interfaith Services. Over the years, services
have expanded to include child care, educational training, job placement,
transitional housing, advocacy and more.
Beyond financially supporting FISH, Torrance Memorial works extensively
with Harbor Interfaith Services in several other ways. The hospital provides
medical services for some of their clients and holds health fairs and
training classes on topics such as CPR.
During the holiday season, Torrance Memorial works with Harbor Interfaith’s
Adopt-a-Family program in which various hospital departments help supply
the gifts on needy families’ wish lists. Each year, Torrance Memorial
adopts about 40 families, and Harbor Interfaith holds a block party where
hospital staff present the gifts to them.
Leading up to Thanksgiving, the hospital also holds its annual food drive,
collecting canned goods for inclusion in the 350 food baskets Harbor Interfaith
gives out each year. “Harbor Interfaith is especially grateful for
the partnership with Torrance Memorial,” says Hayslet. “We
know they are looking at the best interest of the community as a whole
and we can depend on them if there’s anything we ever need. Our
partnership goes hand in hand.”