A big part of my job is reaching out to a large audience with fruit trees and let them know that there is an option to donate their fruit to food banks. The best way to reach a large audience quickly is through newspapers. So, this week I devoted my time to reaching out to newspapers and news outlets. I came across Pomona Proud, a small community oriented newspaper that writes about local current events. After I contacted them about potentially running a story about Food Forward in their column, they invited me into their studio to interview me. I was asked to give the history of Food Forward and what my goals for this summer were in regards to fighting urban hunger in Pomona. Martha, the interviewer, asked me a few specific questions and then thanked me for my time. I was excited by the prospects of having Food Forward published in a newspaper in the East San Gabriel Valley and within two days we were featured on the “breaking news” section of Pomona Proud. This marks another step closer to a successful expansion into Pomona. Two other news group reached out to us, La Nueva Voz (Spanish-English community Newspaper) and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune (covers the whole San Gabriel Valley) looking to run stories on us. The amount of press that we are getting is remarkable and I hope that the excitement of Food Forward continues!
First off Happy Fourth of July and congratulations to our Women for winning the Women’s World Cup in Canada! It is an exciting time in America. Often times we focus on the bad in our country, divided on the basis of political ideology, racial divides, low-income families struggling to keep up with the rest of the country. But we really are a great country, where an idea can turn into a business, a man can end slavery, and a nation can send a man to the moon. At Food Forward, our goal is to fight urban hunger and if you look at the numbers, Los Angeles looks like it’s a lost cause. It’s the only city with a Skid Row left, it is home to 254,000 homeless people throughout the year (84,000 any given night), and one in six adults and one in four children in LA County are food insecure. But Food Forward never focused on the bad, rather the change that is happening with our work. I was talking to Rachael about what to tell newspapers and those that ask me questions, and she said “Acknowledge the problem but focus on our efforts to fix them.” The whole work experience is positive from the time that the fruit is picked until it lands in the hands of someone who needs it. I am optimistic that the leaders of Los Angeles will find a solution for the homelessness problem.
In Other News:
After our Altadena flyering campaign I decided to run my own trial in Pomona. What we do is walk around the neighborhood and when we see a fruit tree we put a flyer detailing Food Forward’s goal on the homeowner’s front porch. I grabbed my brother and my sister and we took to the streets of Pomona. It was a hot 92 degrees and after an hour and fifteen minutes I started to hear the sound of an ice cream truck. I had not seen one since I was a child. I felt like it was the sort of mirage/hallucination that desert dwellers get when they are dehydrated. Then it turned the corner and I was jumping up and down waving him down only to find I didn’t have any money. It was the biggest disappointment of my whole internship so far. I finished my route and met up with the siblings at the car. Hopefully homeowners are receptive to the message and decide to call our organization to donate.
Last week I met with the Inland Valley Hope Partners to discuss a possible partnership between both organizations. Since my work consists of three main parts: volunteers to pick the fruit, properties to provide the fruit, and receiving agencies to take the fruit and redistribute it to those in need, I thought that I would spend my week reaching out to more receiving agencies. The reason I contacted Inland Valley Hope was because five different faith-based groups referred me to them as the leading community receiving agency. I could tell by the way the community members spoke of Inland Valley, they were not only well-respected but also wide spread in Pomona and surrounding communities. I called up the organization and set up a meeting with Ron and Kami. After giving them an introduction to Food Forward and our mission in the East San Gabriel Valley, they informed me that they themselves were running a gleaning program that was rather small but effective and that they were looking to revamp it this summer. I realized I struck gold! Food Forward could provide the infrastructure and Inland Valley could provide the community volunteers, local properties, and community trust that comes with a good reputation. Additionally, when my tenure this summer with Food Forward comes to a close, they could be the reference point that Food Forward needs to build a sustainable chapter in Pomona. I understood the importance of this partnership when Ron shook my hand and said, “this is the sort of partnership that will a difference in Pomona.”
Today one of my coworkers, Laura Jellum, had her birthday party in the office. We all brought a few sandwich buffet items and grilled panini s in the kitchen. It was a festive atmosphere with people laughing and telling jokes. Even though quarters were tight, we managed to fit 11 people into a small circle and tell funny stories about quail breeding, hiking in the mountains, and trips with friends. Laura, you are wonderful to the Food Forward community and were so welcoming to me in my own experiences here with Food Forward. Happy Birthday!
There is an article published in the LA Times around the time Food Forward first began where the founder, Rick Nahmais, said, “This is like ‘The Little Engine That Could… To my great pleasure and astonishment, this has taken off.” Taken off was an understatement to the wide-reaching impacts of Food Forward today. I still remember back when we first joined Food Forward in 2011, they were excited to hit their milestone mark of 200,000 pounds of fruit. There was a celebration commemorating the feat that we had then surpassed. In fact, we shattered expectations and branded our name in the Southern California urban hunger fight. With the inclusion of the Farmers’ Market Recovery Programs and last year’s Wholesale Recovery Program, our influence and presence in Southern California has grown exponentially and today we hit our latest milestone: 10 million pounds of fruit! It began as a weekend activity and has grown into a multi-faceted organization that caters to over 100 food banks that serves about 100,000 people in need every month.
Looking back on my own involvement with Food Forward, I realize I found a deep sense of self. Growing up an Angelino in the city of dreams I have always felt a strong connection to the city, the mixture of cultures, and the undisputed best weather in the world. It can be easy to be lost in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood but there is a whole side of Los Angeles that doesn’t get enough attention: it’s the undernourished homeless and needy who suffer from urban hunger. Seeing this first hand on Skid Row or in the greater Los Angeles can be eye-opening. Los Angeles suffers from the last remaining Skid Row and one of the largest homeless population in the United States. Witnessing this poverty and need in my hometown city, I feel a personal obligation to help out in any way that I can. I am so happy to be a part of an organization that stands not for personal gain, but for community betterment.
Celebrating our 10 million pound victory is less about what we have accomplished but more on how many lives we have impacted. Although the organization itself has changed so much over the last six years, the mission from the very first pick until today has remained constant: connect those in need with the abundance of fruit in our area. As we cheered today and spoke about what it meant to us to reach this goal, it was a figurative toast to all of those who were involved helping us reach this goal. The Los Angeles community made this possibility a reality, so to them we say “Cheers!”
At the end of the first week I can happily say my internship has been going well. Over the course of the week, I met many dedicated people on the forefront of food recovery who are passionate about serving and helping others. Lillian, a longtime intern from Occidental, trained me as a pick leader so that I could lead my own picks and work independently in the field. She took me out Thursday to pick grapefruit where we collected over 1,000 pounds of fruit in a span of three hours. I polished my skills on how to greet volunteers, ensure safety measures for a pick, and encourage volunteers to spread our mission to family, friends, and neighbors. We then relocated to a local Starbucks to begin the process of reaching out to organizations in our targeted area, and to generate publicity in local newspapers. I quickly realized how difficult it will be to expand our presence into the East San Gabriel Valley. There are no contacts that I can use as reference points, and few organizations that we have already partnered with. Although this will be challenging, my hope is to slowly partner with organizations and people to build a strong foundation for our presence and grow from there.
While with Fruit For All and over the last couple of years with Food Forward, we have worked on growing and maintaining our existence in main cities such as Arcadia, Pasadena, Monrovia, etc. Since we already have a strong influence in the Western part of the San Gabriel Valley, Food Forward is looking to expand East. This summer, my involvement with Food Forward will be focused on strengthening our presence in the East San Gabriel Valley (from Arcadia to Pomona) by acquiring more volunteers and homeowners to donate to our cause. Much of the challenge is that we do not have many relations with existing organizations, nor any reference points to work from in East San Gabriel Valley. We are starting from scratch, but with the resources and help from Food Forward it is an obtainable goal.
First Day on the Job:
I was nervous walking into Food Forward for my first day of my food-recovery internship. Although this work isn’t entirely foreign to me, I still had my doubts about my ability to increase our presence in East San Gabriel Valley. Would I be an asset to the Food Forward Staff or just dead weight that they had to carry on their backs? I walked into their office and was greeted with some familiar friendly faces who I had already met my last internship two years prior and the rest of the staff. I was really excited to meet Rachael Maysels and Lillian Krovoza, both of whom I was going to be working closely with this summer. It was striking how warm and welcoming the whole staff was to me. Rachael and Lillian gave me a briefing on expectations, information about the company procedures, my area of focus, obtainable goals, and how I would achieve them. The first city I was targeting was Pomona, so I compiled a list of possible leads and made my plan of attack. That night I looked over my papers and accustomed myself to my role in the organization for the rest of the summer. It was a great beginning to the work this summer and I am extremely optimistic going forward from here.
Thank you DukeEngage for supporting my independent project of working with Food Forward to expand backyard harvesting in the San Gabriel Valley. Also, a special thank you to Dean Brownell, my mentor, for his guidance on my project and his support of fighting urban hunger. Finally, a thank you to Mr. Rick Caruso for his support in believing this project is a worthy endeavor.