An LA Food Bank Is Helping Striking Writers And Actors With Free Groceries

From Jon Favreau's "Chef" to Pixar's "Ratatouille," restaurants have played a huge on-screen role in Hollywood — and now, as one of the largest labor strikes in modern American history wages on, one L.A. food bank is stepping up to the plate to help writers and actors in a big way.

Between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), an estimated tens of thousands of Hollywood creatives are actively striking, and by extension, are out of work. The WGA has been on strike since May 2 and SAG-AFTRA joined the fight on July 14. It's a tough scene out there, which is why the World Harvest Food Bank (WHFB) in Arlington Heights has turned itself into something of a safe haven for struggling workers, reports the Los Angeles Times. Under normal circumstances, a cartful of groceries from WHFB costs $55 or four hours of volunteer work. But, now, striking Hollywood actors and writers can fill a grocery bag totally free of charge, freeing them up to picket. WGA and SAG-AFTRA members just have to flash their membership cards to snag hundreds of dollars worth of free groceries.

It's a moving and impressive demonstration of union support, but if the donation seems a little unsustainable, that's because it is. WHFB Owner Glen Curado says he welcomes workers in need with open arms and enthusiasm, but that realistically, he can only continue to do so while supplies last.

Community support strengthens as workers fight for better conditions

WHFB isn't the only helping hand in Hollywood; the larger community is coming together in solidarity with striking workers on all fronts. Mutual aid fund Green Envelope Grocery Aid is providing $100 to striking Hollywood workers to help cover their grocery bills. The SAG-AFTRA Foundation's Emergency Financial Assistance fund is another resource. One supporter has even compiled a public spreadsheet of nearby restaurants and bars that have volunteered various discounts to striking Hollywood writers.

These shows of support represent a huge moment for labor unions across the U.S., which have collectively been leading what's shaping up to be a large-scale American labor revolution. It looks like Starbucks Workers United and the high-press railroad strike of 2022 were only the beginning. In the past week, actors have been physically walking off of film sets, effectively stopping production. Roughly 160,000 actors are members of SAG-AFTRA, and the WGA represents about 11,000 writers, making this not only the first Hollywood double-strike since 1960 but a pretty huge deal in 2023.

The strike is happening in response to the expiration of the unions' contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Netflix, Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros, and Comcast stocks have all taken a drastic hit already.

Dismantling public prejudice about Hollywood

The WHFB's generosity is certainly newsworthy, but not everyone is excited about it. Public outcry has arisen on the grounds that striking Hollywood workers are less in need than other regular patrons of the local food bank, and they're eating up all the resources. SAG-AFTRA member Kristina Wong argues that food insecurity in America has many faces, even recounting a personal experience as a struggling actor when she was reprimanded for swiping food from on-set craft services. "Who is to say that actors are not also single parents, are also people being evicted, are also people living out of their cars?" Wong pointed out, per the Los Angeles Times. As of June 2023, 17% of Americans are food insecure.

Wealth disparity is a thing for the faces of Hollywood, too. Some well-known actors can make over $100 million in one year, while other SAG-AFTRA members are lucky to take home a few thousand dollars after taxes and fees for agents, lawyers, and managers are deducted. SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher says the majority of actors "are just working people, just trying to make a living, just trying to pay their rent, just trying to put food on the table and get their kids off to school," via CNN.

A-list actors Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, Seth Meyers, Mindy Kaling, and others have appeared on picket lines to show their support. SNL alum Pete Davidson even brought Brooklyn strikers free pizza.