Emergency Resource Association Lends A Helping Hand Year Around

  • ERA Food Basket (Photo by Sean Armstrong)
  • ERA Volunteers (Photo by Sean Armstrong)

By Sean Armstrong
August 29, 2013 • 517 views

El Monte -

For over 50 years, the El Monte-South El Monte Emergency Resource Association (ERA) has been a pillar of support for struggling families throughout the community.

It all started in 1956, when a group of community leaders, educators, and the welfare office got together and decided to address a growing need in the community.

Executive Director Lillian Rey, who has been with the ERA since 1981, recalls the story.

“They would know that kids were coming to school hungry,” Rey says. The agency, which then operated under the name of “Community Welfare,” started giving out $25 food vouchers to buy food essentials such as milk, cereal, eggs, and bread.

As the years went by, the agency’s budget grew and they were able to offer a variety of services such as rent assistance for families facing eviction, motel vouchers, allowance for gasoline and bus fares, and homeless prevention.

However, over the past four years, Rey has seen a sharp decrease in funding. The Whitecap Foundation, which supported the agency for almost 50 years, has seen their grant fold. This left a giant hole in the budget, since they used to pay 80 percent of the rent.

Luckily, now retired El Monte Union School District Superintendent, Jeff Seymour, stepped in and offered two vacant rooms at the recently closed Mulhall Elementary, free of charge. Rey says that if it were not for the school district’s assistance, the ERA would have had to close their doors.

Though the funding has been cut and the services offered has been thinned, the agency still continues to do what they can to help families and individuals in need.

Rey jumps from desk to desk doing the jobs of multiple persons throughout the day. Her driver, the only other employee, works six days a week picking up donated goods and delivering food on a regular basis to over 25 families. Many of these families cannot go to other food banks due to a lack of transportation, childcare, or limited mobility.

“We pick up (perishable food) from Albertsons in the morning and it goes out in our food boxes the same day.”

Several volunteers work regularly for food by putting together the food boxes and loading them onto the van. The doors of the office remain open for anyone who wants to pick up clothing, furniture, hygiene items, school supplies, or small appliances from the back storage room.

Small funds have also trickled through, helping the ERA provide services for a limited time. Kaiser Permanente gave a $10,000 grant for children’s eyeglasses and healthy food. Churches bring donated food items. The City of South El Monte donated $21,000.

On the wall behind one of Rey’s desks hang dozens of awards. Even more are still in boxes, unpacked.

“All these awards and everything,” she says, “of course I’m humbled and honored to receive them, but I wish they all came with about $10,000 or $20,000.”

Rey hopes that the agency will be able to gather up enough funds to apply for Federal Grants, which now have strict requirements. In order to apply, the company must have matching funds in their bank account. These grants are usually in excess of $75,000.

Reflecting on all of her work Rey states “maybe we’ve served our purpose now that there’s other agencies that are able to receive funds, maybe they can take over, but there will never be another ERA like this.”

The ERA is still planning on continuing it’s successful Christmas program this winter. Last year, with the help of volunteers, they distributed 600 food baskets at the Boys and Girls Club facility.

Speaking about the need of the community, Rey hopes that people will recognize that there are always people in need.

“People can be very generous at Christmas,” she says, “but it’s Christmastime all year long.”

According to the United States Census Bureau, 22 percent of El Monte residents lived below the poverty level between 2007 and 2011, and 17.4 percent of South El Monte residents lived below the poverty level during the same time frame. These numbers are relatively high compared to the state of California’s at 14.4 percent, and Los Angeles County’s at 16.3 percent.

Anyone that wishes to get involved with the ERA can contact Lillian Rey at (626)444-7269. Non-perishable food items, hygiene items, gently used or new clothing, working appliances, or monetary donations can be brought to 10900 Mulhall St., Building G, Room 28, El Monte, CA 91731.

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