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Santa Monica’s Fairmont Miramar Hosts Open House Benefit for Westside Food Bank

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

December 6, 2013 -- There will be food, music and even snow at Santa Monica’s historic Fairmont Miramar this Sunday, when the hotel hosts a canned food drive to help feed to hungry.

From 2 to 6 p.m., those who want to donate canned and nonperishable food to the Westside Food Bank can come by the 86-year-old hotel at Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard for the “Meet Me Under the Fig Tree” open house.

“We invite all members of Santa Monica and the surrounding area to attend the festive event with a non-perishable food donation," said Matthew Lehman, hotel manager.

"This contribution will go directly to the Westside Food Bank and have direct impact on the lives of the less fortunate,” he said.

And, with the economy’s slow recovery and recent cut-backs in federal aid programs, the Westside Food Bank needs as much help as it can get to meet rising demand, officials said.

“Food banks across the country are struggling,” said Genevieve Riutort, the Westside Food Bank’s chief development officer.

“For very low-income people, the kinds of cuts they are seeing to government safety net programs” leads them to seek more help from food banks, she said.

The Westside Food Bank serves about 105,000 people -- about half of whom are children -- through more than 70 agencies in an area that stretches from the Santa Monica Mountains to LAX.

While some food banks charge their partner agencies as much as 19 cents a pound, the Westside Food Bank depends almost entirely on third-party donations, charging less than two cents a pound.

"We're not seeing the increase in donations along” with the increase in need, said Riutort. “We’re not able to purchase as much.”

In fact, the Food Bank has had to reduce food purchases by 25 percent.

That means families have seen less food in the grocery bags they take home from food pantries served by the Westside Food Bank like St. Joseph Center, the Salvation Army, SOVA Metro and SOVA West.

Events like Sunday’s canned-food drive at the Miramar Hotel are vital to maintaining the health of the Westside Food Bank.

While the food donated at such events helps shore up the stock at the Food Bank, it also serves another vital function.

"We're hoping to gain some awareness from” the Meet Me Under the Fig Tree event, said Westside Food Bank President Barbara Whittenburg.

She said that since the Food Bank relies “very heavily” on cash donations, raising awareness about the organization is essential.

The Food Bank itself buys roughly half of the food that eventually ends up in food pantries across its service region because, according to Food Bank officials, they are able to stretch those dollars.

According to officials, a $25 donation can provide about 100 meals, since the Food Bank buys in bulk and often seeks out the most cost-effective deals, balancing price and nutritional value.

Events like the annual Santa Monica Pub Crawl, which will take place this year on December 14, go a long way to raise badly-needed funds. Last year, the Pub Crawl brought in more than $20,000 for the Food Bank.

But canned food drives are equally important, Food Bank officials said.

"We want as much food as we can get to go out into the community," said Riutort. And food drives allow for greater variety in the Food Bank’s stock.

For example, Riutort said, the Food Bank wouldn’t go out and buy Wolfgang Puck-brand foods with donated money because of the higher cost of the products, but in a canned food drive wealthy families might give those kinds of foods.

Whittenburg said the Westside Food Bank is managing to stay afloat despite the strain put on it in lean economic times.

"It's a struggle nowadays," she said. "We're trying to manage without having to disembowel the organization."

For more information about the Westside Food Bank, to make a donation or to learn about upcoming events, visit

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