Michael Flood: Lifeline in an era of growing food insecurity

Michael Flood
Michael Flood, photographed at the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on Sept. 8.

About a month after COVID-19 locked down most of the state in the spring of 2020, Debbie Decker, who runs a neighborhood food pantry, decided to stay open when so many had shut down. But most of her volunteers had gone home and the pantry was quickly running out of food.

At the same time, the need at her pantry had more than quintupled — from 2,500 people a month to 14,000. Families from as far away as Ventura and south Orange County traveled to the West Valley Food Pantry in Woodland Hills.

Desperate, she called Michael Flood, the longtime director of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Flood himself was in the midst of attempting to feed more than twice as many people as he had pre-pandemic.

“Michael, I’m in trouble. I need help,” Decker told him.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, bereft of staples, neighborhood grocery stores that usually donated to the pantry no longer could, she explained to him. In addition, many of her volunteers were scared to leave their homes.

“Hang on,” Flood told her. “I’ll get back to you.”

Not long after that call, Decker started fielding calls from people wanting to help. The Smart & Final Charitable Foundation pulled up with an 18-wheeler full of food. Amazon Fresh, which had to postpone its grand opening due to the pandemic, donated thousands of pounds of meat and produce. Workers from a nearby hospital volunteered to help Decker establish drive-through food distribution.

“We were able to stay open all through COVID and it was really because of Michael’s connections,” Decker said.

Flood, 61, who has led the food bank for more than 20 years, used his deep connections with private donors and local, state and national government officials to ramp up efforts to serve the growing number of people who needed food during the pandemic.

Michael Flood
Michael Flood

His relationships with Los Angeles County officials allowed the food bank to host large-scale food distributions at huge venues, such as the Hollywood Bowl. And although the intense early days of the pandemic are now in the past, Flood said the demand for food remains high. Food inflation and pandemic-era programs coming to an end are just some of the reasons so many in the county need help.

Currently, Flood and his team — in coordination with a network of more than 600 partner agencies, including soup kitchens, homeless shelters and senior programs — feed about 900,000 people every month.

"The need is still there," he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.