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.
I have been involved in food recovery since my eighth grade year. My friend Jackson Selby came to me with the idea that he and his family (Mr. Selby, Mrs. Selby, and Zach) had of picking backyard fruit and donating it to food banks. The idea was simple: go to a homeowner’s house with a fruit tree, pick what they were not going to be able to use, and donate it to a food bank to help those in need. Since we were a small, high school run organization, we had to go from door to door to spread the word of our mission. It slowly began to grow and we had a strong presence in Arcadia and Monrovia. As time went on, more and more picks were scheduled with fewer volunteers so we had to double up on the weekends and were forced to pick twice as often. Another obstacle came when Zach Selby and my brother graduated leaving half of the workforce left. During my junior year I spent both Saturday and Sunday picking fruit and donating it. We were also aware that Jackson and I were going to graduate in two years leaving the organization without any sustainable group of volunteers. Fortunately, at a local street fair that we were tabling, we met a lady from Food Forward that was interested in expanding into our area. We were her answer, and she was our hope to continue the work that we had started. Interestingly, Food Forward started their campaign at around the same time that we did, unbeknownst to us. That summer I got myself involved with Food Forward by taking a short two week internship with them to familiarize myself with their protocol as well as give them our database of information. We have since integrated ourselves with Food Forward. This summer I will be working on the forefront of the Backyard Harvest program in the East San Gabriel Valley. Since we do not have much presence there it will be a difficult endeavor. This is exciting for me because I can continue the work I started in high school during summers. Urban hunger plagues Los Angeles and it is good to see the positive impact Food Forward is having, as well as personally being able to lead the expansion into the East San Gabriel Valley.
Food Forward is a non-profit food/fruit-recovery organization that has to date collected over nine and a half million pounds of fruit donating one-hundred percent of it to food banks across Southern California. It started when the founder, Rick Nahmais, was walking his dog and stumbled upon a ripe orange tree with oranges rotting at its base. He grabbed a couple of friends to salvage what was left on the tree and donate it to a local food pantry. He was inspired by the potential change he could have on his community and decided to start small and reach out to all of his neighbors. News quickly spread and he realized the potential impact he could have on his community. His organization has since grown all over Southern California donating to about 100 receiving agencies serving hundreds of thousands of people each year. The organization now boasts three main branches: Backyard Harvests, Farmers Market Recovery, and the latest Wholesale Recovery. Food Forward, led by a team of twelve full time workers, has changed the lives of so many people with the simple mission statement that they have kept since the inception of the organization: rescue fresh local produce that would otherwise go to waste and donate one-hundred percent of the recovered fruit to those in need connecting this abundance with people in need.
I will be working closely with Rachael Maysels and Lillian Krovoza this summer to accomplish my goals. A little bit about them:
Rachael is our Backyard Harvest Manager. She has had a lot of experience with L.A.’s farmers’ markets and participated in WWOOFing while studying farming techniques and its implications. She was raised in upstate New York around farms and orchards giving her a connection to food from an early age. She has since joined Food Forward and has become a huge asset to the team and the cause in general.
Lillian Krovoza is a recent Occidental graduate. She resides with other students in Eagle Rock and has been working with Food Forward for over a year. Her specialty is in the Central LA, East LA, West San Gabriel Valley, and North East LA areas. She plans on remaining with the organization for another month before embarking on her life’s journey.