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Debbie Decker of the West Valley Food Pantry | Los Angeles Rams pLAymaker 2023
Debbie Decker of the West Valley Food Pantry | Los Angeles Rams pLAymaker 2023

WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. – Scroll through the West Valley Food Pantry's website or ask any volunteer, and you'll see and hear the phrase repeatedly:

No one goes away hungry.

The nonprofit's mission is always important when it comes to combating food insecurity, but especially now more than ever with the impact of inflation on grocery prices. Executive Director Debbie Decker's role in helping the food pantry's team further that cause is why she was recently recognized as the Rams' second "pLAymaker" honoree of 2023.

"I am absolutely speechless," Decker said last week at the food pantry, where she was surprised with a check for $5,000 from The Los Angeles Rams Foundation. "This has been a huge shock and a wonderful, wonderful surprise, and I'm incredibly honored. I am so honored. And the thing is, it's not just me, it's a whole team. It takes a village. So thank you for the honor, but it's really the whole team that worked so hard to make this happen."

According to its website, the WVFP has more than 200 volunteers serving about 2-1/2 hours, 1 day a week. Those volunteers buy or take delivery of food shipments, stock shelves, validate client eligibility, maintain distribution records, shop for specials, buy and pick up food, and also assist in the daily distribution.

Its mission is aided in part by food donations from 10 major grocery stores in the area, as well as food and money received from the local community and the nonprofit's coalition members. It meets the dietary needs of their clients, whether it be allergies, religious or other reasons.

Decker said the WVFP works to feed the hungry, no matter what a person may be going through. Decker said in a country like the United States, that should never be an issue.

"No child should go to bed hungry ever. No senior should have to go to bed hungry. This is not what we're about," Decker said. "I can't solve the world's problems, but every single one of us can make a difference in the community, and all of the people that you see here today are doing that. They're making a difference in their community, one person at a time."

Combating food insecurity reached heightened urgency with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At one point during the pandemic, the WVFP did cooking lessons on Zoom to help its clients.

According to Decker, the food pantry is feeding 700 families a week. Those numbers dropped slightly when people started returning to work, but have gone up again as inflation has hit the most vulnerable members of the community.

"And so it's impactful," Decker said. "It's something that I think every person can relate to, because we've all been hungry at some point. You either forgot your lunch and you're doing without (it) at work, or you went to school one day and you forgot your lunch and so people were sharing their food with you. I think having even the smallest experience of hunger, everybody can relate to what that is. And so this community joins together and we feed the hungry. Once somebody has food in their belly, that opens them up to being able to address other problems in their life – whether it's a lack of funding, whether it's a lack of shelter, whether it's a lack of healthcare, whatever the other crises that brought them to the point where they are hungry, you can then take the next step, and that's where we go."

The WVFP will have a new and permanent home to help accommodate that demand in the spring of 2024, when its community center is expected to open. The center, which broke ground on Feb. 11, was made possible by a $3.5 million grant from the state plus a $1.5 million grant from the state for Phase 2 of the build.

Fittingly, as someone who works among with that many volunteers and gets help from the local community, Decker said that inspiring change "starts inside every one of us."

"I think, when any of us see a problem, and I don't care if it's animals or if it's the environment, if you see a problem, it's up to each one of us to take action to fix something," she said. "Every one of us needs to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. To take action to me means you look inside your own heart and see what touches your heart, and then you do something about it when you see the brokenness."

Along those same lines, there are two key ways people can inspire change in their own communities.

"Volunteer, donate," Decker said. "If you can't volunteer, donate money, because every nonprofit that I know is doing good work, good work, and they're all trying to make a difference. A lot of people work full-time, they can't volunteer during the day but they can write a check, $10, $100, $1,000, whatever anyone can afford financially. Donating enables the nonprofit to do that fixing in the community. If you do have time volunteer, be a part of the solution, an active part of the solution, because it really does take all of us working together to fix the problems of this world."

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