Feeding the needy: How arenas across the country turned a negative of coronavirus into a positive

With the coronavirus shutting down all events, Staples Center donated more than 7,000 pounds of food to two local charities to feed the homeless. (Courtesy of Staples Center)
Coronavirus

As the sports world abruptly began to go dark last Wednesday night, Staples Center staffers recognized they had a problem.

Thousands of pounds of perishable food were in jeopardy of going to waste with all upcoming events postponed or canceled as a result of the coronavirus. 

The culinary department at Staples Center had previously ordered truckloads of provisions in preparation for a particularly hectic upcoming 17-day stretch. From March 11-28, the arena was scheduled to host a total of 11 Lakers, Clippers and Kings home games and the NCAA tournament’s West Regional.

With the NBA season already suspended and the NHL poised to do the same, Staples Center employees spent Thursday morning freezing or pickling whatever food they could preserve and taking inventory of what remained. They had a staggering 7,000 pounds of perishable items intended for the luxury suites and premium dining areas, anything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to artisanal breads and dairy products, to roasted meats, braised chicken and shellfish.

“At that point, we were ready to lockdown the arena and go into full hibernation mode,” said Payman Khania, Staples Center’s vice president of hospitality and retail strategy. “We realized there wasn’t much that we could do with any of the food, so we decided to figure out how much we could donate.”

Staples Center has typically donated extra food to a downtown Los Angeles charity that offers food, shelter and workforce training to the homeless, but Midnight Mission couldn’t handle this big of a delivery on its own. The charity gratefully took half of the food and suggested Staples Center donate the rest to Los Angeles Mission, another non-profit that helps the homeless.

On Friday morning, 15 Staples Center managers organized prepared meals and other food onto heaping pallets, moved them to the loading dock via forklift and placed them in delivery trucks. They did all this the day after learning that there would be no events for them to work for the foreseeable future and that they could no longer depend on that income. 

“Our team was relentless,” Khania said. “With everything that was going on, we thought it was important that we did something positive and made sure this food didn’t go to waste.”

Turning a negative into a positive  

The unselfish scene at Staples Center last Friday mirrored what happened across the country at other shuttered NBA arenas the past few days. Arena employees worked overtime to make sure that surplus food would feed the hungry instead of being thrown away.  

A spokeswoman for the Barclay’s Center said that the home of the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday intends to donate 10,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables, fresh baked goods and non-alcoholic beverages to City Harvest, New York’s largest food rescue organization. City Harvest projects that those five tons of food will feed roughly 10,000 people for a full day. 

Officials at the newly built San Francisco-based Chase Center worked with an excess food delivery service to donate perishables originally intended for two Golden State Warriors games and a Tame Impala concert. Similar donations were made by the Moda Center in Portland and the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

Maybe the largest donation of excess food was the 12,000 pounds the Atlanta Hawks sent to Goodr, an organization that aims to reduce waste and end hunger. Four hundred pounds of that donation alone were various types of lettuce that had just arrived at State Farm Arena as part of a massive produce delivery last Wednesday. 

At a time when the spread of coronavirus is closing small businesses, threatening lives and irreparably damaging the economy, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin was proud to turn one negative effect of the pandemic into a positive. Goodr is distributing the donation from the Hawks among two county services, three non-profit organizations and 190 individual families in need. 

“This is something we believe in,” Koonin said. “You just want to make sure people have what they need at this incredibly difficult time.”

A godsend

At Midnight Mission and Los Angeles Mission, the surplus food from Staples Center already has been a godsend. The 7,000-pound donation should provide approximately 15,000 meals to the Los Angeles homeless community.

Midnight Mission executive chef Javier Sanchez said his eyes got big when Staples Center employees pulled up in a big truck and started unloading pallet after pallet of food. It was the largest shipment that Sanchez can recall Midnight Mission taking at one time. 

“We’ve never gotten anything like this,” Sanchez said. “It was emotional looking at all the stuff coming out and knowing that there are people out there that want to help out and are willing to contribute to our cause.”

As soon as the Staples Center truck was empty, Sanchez and his coworkers began stuffing as much of the food as they could fit into Midnight Mission’s refrigerators. They’ve distributed it to those in need each of the past three days.  

“The quality was different than what we’re used to,” Sanchez said. “Everything was on point. Everything was fresh. That was probably one of the best things.”

That’s no surprise considering the Staples Center food was originally intended for patrons who can afford to watch games from suites or eat at premium restaurants.

Said Khania with pride, “A lot of homeless people were fed extremely well over the last few days.”

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