Free Food L.A.: New City, Same Ethos

by Mauricio Clavel

The Free Food team from Philo has relocated to sunny Los Angeles, and it has been an adventure and tale worth telling. In only three months we have built great relationships with food suppliers, volunteers, and the community we serve. We’ve even found a fantastic chef to lead the menu design and cook the food. This journey has been an abundant one and friendships have truly been built.

We started by connecting with mom and pop shops in our neighborhood in an attempt to get ingredients for our signature weekly breakfast burrito distribution. A few grocery stores lovingly donated tortillas, but we knew we needed a larger donation though to make the hundreds of meals we wanted to. Finally, one of our team members, through a series of communications, landed us a relationship with FoodCycle L.A. This was huge! FoodCycle L.A. is a non-profit organization that works with retailers by recovering and diverting their surplus food away from landfills to groups working to feed hungry people. We were so excited when we got our first delivery of 3,000 lbs. of food. Yes, you read that right, 3,000 lbs! And the magical part was that we received this donation for the week of Christmas, so we were more than eager to roll up our sleeves and prepare this food for distribution.

Since then, we’ve been blessed with having a very similar experience on a weekly basis. Every Sunday on behalf of FoodCycle, I pick up surplus boxes of groceries from Trader Joe’s and bring them back to our Free Food volunteers to organize and repackage. We separate the donated food into two sections: fresh food and meals ready to be eaten that have no need for prep, and food that can be stored and used for preparation of cooked meals. The next day, we distribute the first ready-to-eat batch, items like healthy salads and fresh berries, and later in the week we deliver our delicious, cooked meals.

Our team has found a favorite place to serve our meals, Skid Row, which is located in downtown L.A. The community there is vibrant, full of life, and always welcoming and loving towards us. Their smiles light me up every time, and their rawness and humor are refreshing. They feel so receptive to our presence, and I am touched to be fully seen in that way. At San Julian Park, at the intersection of E. 5th Street and San Julian Street, we got to know people by name and they got to know our names. They recognize our van when we arrive in our Free Food L.A. shirts and come over to greet us and help us setup. The respect and love are mutual and the intimacy shared boundless. Free Food L.A. is what provides me with a new breath every week.

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