For an hour and a half, starting from six o’clock in the evening, 363 days a year and 364 days on leap years, on the junction of Sycamore and Romaine streets that divides Hollywood from West Hollywood. The Greater Hollywood Food Coalition serves whole hot and fresh meals to the less fortunate in their society for the past 25 years. Through volunteers, donors and well-wishers, this grassroots initiative caters to an average 200 people daily most of whom have only the meal that they are provided with to fill their bellies until the next serving. This initiative aims to provide more than a hearty meal to its dependents. The team of volunteers interacts with them at a personal level enabling them to understand better their situations and has led to several significant and beneficial interventions that have seen most of the recipients rising from their present helpless state. It also helps in making their contributions towards building this great nation and giving back by always contributing both their time and resources to the cause in the hopes that others might benefit as they did. The GWHFC has an open membership policy that has made it have a diverse membership ranging from lawyers to former recipients of the program, all who have the overwhelming desire to help their communities by giving their time a couple of times a week to ensure the success of the program.
By taking this intervention where those who need it the most are available, The GWHFC effectively creates a comfortable environment where recipients are free and can open up about their problems and situations enabling them to get the meaningful and specific help that has proven to be more practical, sustainable and effective. I came across The GWHFC volunteer call-to-action poster as I was looking for the Indonesian Foreign Students’ page that was set up to enable students from my home country to interact with each other and to provide support for each other to ensure that no one fell through the cracks. I remembered that during our orientation program, we were treated to tea with the Dean of our Business Administration faculty, career counselors from three affiliate colleges invited to our campus’s, Santa Monica College, counselor and a couple of alumni from our school. This talk proved very educative to me as I got to understand that to enhance my career prospects and compete favorably in the US job market and even back home, academics alone would not cut it. The main theme of all talks given was to encourage us to start building our experience and skills early enough so that by the end of our program we would have made significant connections with the outside world while building our skills and experience making which would effectively give us an edge over others in the jobs market.
I clicked on the link and signed up for last Sunday’s evening session and was told to report at 1106 North Cahuenga Boulevard where the program’s kitchen is located at four o’clock in the afternoon. I got to the location with fifteen minutes to spare and met with Jack, the kitchen’s manager who introduced me to those who were present and we began with the meal preparations a little before the clock hit four. The work starts with unloading fresh produce from the program’s truck that has been donated by the Farmers Market Recovery program. After cleaning, peeling, chopping and dicing, the vegetables are turned into trays, pots tasty vegetable, fruit salads, wholesome stews, and soups. The program gets dessert and entrée donations from Magnolia Cupcakes and the Puck group of restaurants respectively though these are taken straight to the venue. The meal preparation session is a wholesome experience with the whole team chatting and singing as they work on preparing the meals. I got to learn how to prepare several new dishes and I have to say, the food there tasted way better than most of the food offered in the restaurants around campus.
That day, we were around four newbies at the kitchen, and Jack saw to it that we understood what The GWHFC was all about. First he told us that the program was not affiliated with any religion and offered meals to all members of society that needed it. The GWHFC was founded on the principles of being one’s brother’s keeper and has grown through the years from a soup kitchen offering daily meals to the less fortunate. The company has an outreach program that seeks to provide a wide range of social services from transportation offering stranded people fare through issuing them with bus passes, to medical camps that offer free medical screening and checkups and free UCLA-qualified legal aid for those in need. Through these initiatives, the program has been able to carry out several meaningful interventions that have led to the reintegration of hundreds of families back into society and resuming normalcy (Tilson 20). The programs model creates a mutual exchange between volunteers and clients as they break bread together and makes small talk that encourages camaraderie and restores the dignity some of the clients have lost and the despair they suffer at the hardships of life.
All the cooking was done by half past five, and we started to load up the truck in readiness for departure to the serving venue. Jack ran a tight ship that involved tidying and cleaning during the preparation and cooking process to reduce the amount of cleaning that would have to be done after the exercise. The queue at the venue was long when we got there but the team’s efficiency in serving ensured that ten clients were served every minute. Meals were served amid hearty conversations and greetings, and I was surprised to see some well-dressed people in line as well. The team served last then mingled with the clients. I went over to the older well-dressed gentleman I had noticed earlier and struck up a conversation. Max, as I got to know, was a veteran and had been homeless for a while before, through the intervention of The GWHFC, he found a good job working for a trucking company. He told me that he had lost his house and family during the recession and had fallen into depression and that the meals that were served at that corner and the human interactions with The GWHFC team have what helped him maintain his sanity. He had met the owner of the company that he currently worked for and had been offered a position as a clerk when he told of his story as a logistics officer in the Iraq war. His performance was exemplary and earned him quick successive promotions to his current position as Head of Operations. He was able to get his family back and contributed 20% of his monthly salary towards the program, which greatly inspired me to look for more causes to support to create more impact and not just to boost my resume.
Tilson, Donn J. “Public Relations and Religious Diversity.” (2014). Print.
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