Leftover convention party food helps feed homeless

LOS ANGELES - Problem: hundreds of pounds of leftover, perishable food from the slew of Democratic National Convention parties.

Solution: Angel Harvest.

The Los Angeles-area charity, which picks up leftover food from various events, has been hitting about 40 convention-related parties this week, including a UAW-DaimlerChrysler event at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

''(The food) is not from me, but they feel like it's coming from me, and it's a good feeling,'' said Ray Castanos, the field operations manager. ''Especially when I see the kids and they ask 'Is that food for us?'''

Angel Harvest, which usually has one truck, had to rent an extra three to accommodate all the food from this week's events. They also have extra staff: four drivers, eight volunteers, and 20 on-call workers.

The 5-year-old charity normally picks up food from a variety of sources: food advertising shoots, movie studio commissaries, film sets, awards dinners, and, of course, political parties.

''I like it. I like helping the people, and getting to see events,'' said Jason Castro, an Angel Harvest worker.

An indirect benefit of their job is the many celebrity sightings. Castro on Sunday got a glimpse of President Clinton, whom he said was only three tables away.

The group donates to 42 area shelters, charities, and churches. Some of their larger recipients include the Union Rescue and the Salvation Army.

Because they're a nonprofit, they don't charge either the donor or the recipient for the pickup and delivery of food.

For drug rehab centers, the charity cannot accept any food cooked with alcohol, such as wine in a salad dressing, because it may be harmful to a recovering alcoholic. For the same reason, they cannot take anything with poppy seeds in it, as it may cause a relapse in a recovering heroin addict.

Helen Palit, Angel Harvest's president, saw the need for the service in the early 1980s when she was a homeless shelter employee in New Haven, Conn. A restaurant near her shelter was selling potato skins at a high volume, but discarding a large portion of the potato insides that were not used.

She started City Harvest in New York City in 1982. The concept has spread to 122 cities around the country and 83 abroad. All the programs together serve about 600,000 meals a day, she said.

''I feel extremely blessed to have the business and the opportunities that I have,'' said Joann Roth, whose Someone's in the Kitchen catering company is working 17 events this week at the Petersen. ''But I feel doubly blessed to give and help other people.''

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