Season 4 | Episode 3
“When I think about my nonprofit colleagues here in Los Angeles and really all around the world, I don't think of anyone as a competitor. I think of us as collaborators. And we have got to collaborate because all of the issues that make people food insecure are interrelated. It's education; it's the school to prison pipeline; it's mental health, it's access to healthcare; it's childcare; it's family leave; it's making a living wage. So, the more that we work together and collaborate, the better chance that we're going to have to actually solve some of these entrenched societal problems that have existed for a long time.”
Matt talks to Genevieve Riutort, the new CEO of the Westside Food Bank in Santa Monica, California, an organization whose mission is to end hunger in our communities by providing access to free nutritious food through food acquisition and distribution, and by engaging the community and advocating for a strong food assistance network.
With a global pandemic, inflation on the rise, and a scarcity of infant formula on the shelves, WSFB’s services have rarely been needed more than they are right now. Genevieve talks about the importance and impact of food banks, the best ways to help with food insecurity, and about her own journey from someone who needed food assistance herself, to now helping others. She also talks about her role as female CEO of color and how women should embrace their “*Inner Chad” (*TM Kim Peterson) to get what they deserve.
Your mom used food stamps. And one of the things that you told me that you didn't share on the show though, which I think is really important, I would love for you to tell people about what it actually meant when she had to go to that cashier with her food stamps.
What it felt like to go with your mom and take those food stamps out of the book?
So, here's what I remember. I remember being about five years old and going with my mom to the grocery store and, , I was a pretty precocious kid even back then. And we'd get to our turn, to purchase.
And back then food stamps were actual coupons. They were in a book that was stapled together and they were perforated. And if you tore them, they were no good. So, you had to tear it out perfectly along the perforation. And they looked kind of like money, but they were multicolored, so it was very, very obvious this wasn't money.
And I remember it just kind of took forever cause she would have to very carefully take each book had however much money in it, maybe $30 worth and , in different denominations. And it just took so long. And I said, “mom, why don't you tear them out while we're in line or ahead of time so that we don't take so much time?
People behind us are getting annoyed.” And she said, “Well, it's just one of the rules that you can't tell them out ahead of time. You have to tear them out in front of the cashier when you're in that.” And I didn't think about it at the time I was a kid. I was like, oh, it's the rules. But later I realized that it was just one of many small indignities that hardworking people, like my mom had to endure because people were so concerned about fraud. “What if you gave your food stamps, traded them away for drugs, and so the person giving the coupon at the register isn't actually the person who's the recipient.”
And there's so little fraud in these systems, but that's what people focused. People are in need. This is food. And I'm so grateful now that because of the kind of advocacy that people who've been in this space for so many years have done that people don't have to do that anymore.
We now have what we call an EBT card and it works just like a debit card and you don't have to hold up the line at the grocery store. , and nobody has to know that you're using, , a government safety net program to, to buy that food. And there are still restrictions. You can't buy alcohol, you can't buy toiletries.
Although, if you need food, you probably need things like diapers and tampons as well, but that's a whole other issue--and that advocacy makes a difference and giving people, their dignity is so important.
Honestly, why I wanted you to share that is that you were the child of a mom who needed food stamps to get you fed.
And here you are now the CEO of the west side food bank, providing food to families who don't have it. And how cool is that?
Yeah, it's pretty powerful. And it's why I do this work. I love knowing that I get to give other parents the same sense of relief that I felt that my mom felt when we knew that no matter what other challenges lay ahead, there was going to be food.
Farm to Family – a program run by the California Association of Foodbanks that secures excess produce from California’s fields, and delivers it to food banks throughout the state.
Farmlink Project – A nationwide organization that connects farmers to truckers to foodbanks, rescuing over 60 million pounds of food to date that would have otherwise gone to waste. This 501c3 was founded during the pandemic by college students who were once young volunteers at the Westside Foodbank, and in fact, WFB was their first recipient.