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A Portrait of Hunger in America

April 7, 2015

Brian, a former business owner, and successful florist in Downtown Los Angeles was a self-proclaimed Type A personality.

He and his partner Chuck of 22 years lived more than comfortably. “I was always looking for the next thing to buy,” Brian explains with a sense of astonishment and a hint of guilt. He worked a lot, loved his job, and enjoyed creating large floral arrangements for huge corporate events all over southern California.

But, in a matter of weeks, that life disappeared into memory, and Brian’s life completely changed.

Brian’s health had rebounded since his initial AIDS diagnoses in the early 90’s, but he was on disability, too weak to work with a few additional health complications. And then Chuck unexpectedly passed away. Due to an unpleasant legal battle over money and assets, Brian was left with no home, no car, and a depleted savings account. Heartbroken and destitute, Brian was forced to decide between spending what little money he had left each month on groceries or his medications.

“Hunger in America wasn’t even on my radar,” he admits. “Hunger wasn’t here, it was distant. When I experienced it, it was quite a shock. The whole experience completely shifted my paradigm. People are hungry.”

After his doctor suggested the Laguna Food Pantry several times, Brian finally worked up the nerve to visit. “There’s such a social stigma about needing food assistance. But, there’s nothing shameful about it.”

“They greeted me with open arms. It was amazing to see how generous the staff was. I wasn’t going to have food for the rest of the month, and we were only a week into it. The food pantry saved me the strain, stress, and heartache of figuring out what I was going to eat.”

Before long, Brian became a volunteer at the Laguna Food Pantry himself—which continues to be the highlight of his week. He enjoys all of the backend work, the food sorting, loading and unloading, and food bag assembly that goes into running such a vital organization so smoothly. “They help me, so I want to help them. I have an immediate connection with everyone I work with.” Since Chuck passed away and with limited resources, Brian’s social interaction can be infrequent. The food bank has given him a chance to connect with people from all walks of life.

“There are so many people who use the pantry and I get the opportunity to see I am lucky for what I do have, and also see there are people just like me who need the assistance. I am committed to breaking down the social stigma associated with asking for help, because people are really impacted by hunger. This is real life.”