So right now, I obsessed with just one thing, and it is probably because I just spent today experiencing it in all of its awesomeness: Food On Foot.
I’ve always enjoyed volunteering for good causes and helping people when I can, and my friend Erin discovered this organization and signed us up for today’s serving. I didn’t know what I was getting in to, but I am so glad that I participated and I am so impressed with how this organization works that I am going to become a member.
So here’s the gist: every Sunday, volunteers show up and give a meal to homeless or very poor people in Hollywood. But it isn’t your normal soup kitchen or food bank. For one, as a volunteer, you have to pay to volunteer. That first detail struck me as kind of cool because in that sense, it isn’t just about me and how awesome I am for volunteering my precious time and look at me for showing up and putting on an apron… nope. It’s not about you, it’s about the cause and helping people out. It’s also completely supported by private donations; they don’t receive any government funding.
The next and even more awesome detail about it is that it isn’t just a free handout to homeless people. It works on the principle of that old adage of you can give a man a fish or teach a man to fish… in that they run a program where the down-on-their-luck folks work for the food by collecting trash and bringing it in. As the founder said to everyone, “If you want people to feel sorry for you, go to the church down the street. Here we don’t judge you on anything, whether race, if you’re gay, straight, bi, tri, your past, how many people you may have murdered, if you may have just come from prison… we don’t care about that. All we judge you on here is how hard you work. Don’t tell us about how great or deserving you are, show us.”
And the people in the program show how great they are by working each week for the food and clothes, referring people to the program, and describing one random act of kindness they did that week. Hearing those random acts was one of my favorite parts of the day: one person stopped someone who had dropped something from her stroller, one person told a stranger to move his car to avoid a ticket, one returned a wallet he found, one person gave some of his clothes to another person in a shelter, and so on. I love that that random acts of kindness are such an important part of the program since it helps boost their confidence AND it puts more positivity into the world. They also give out weekly prizes in the form of restaurant or grocery gift cards, bus tokens, and hotel stays for those who work the hardest during that week. During this awards ceremony, there was this beautiful camaraderie among the program participants, where they all cheered each other on, and just before the top winner was announced, several of the participants were excitedly pointing at one man and saying, “oh it’s so Ed. I know it, it’s Ed!” One man won bus tokens as a prize and politely turned down the prize, saying, “Thanks sir, but I won the monthly pass last time.” The program is all about building confidence and work ethic so that they can eventually move on, after 10 consecutive weeks, to the “gray shirt” level.
The gray shirt level involves job placement for program participants. Not only job placement, but support: bus passes, a pre-paid phone, and such. Food on Foot takes these members’ first several pay checks and puts them into savings and checking accounts for them, and then helps them get into an apartment with the money they earned and saved. These graduates come to the Sunday servings, tell their stories, and help serve food. On the site I linked earlier, you can read many of their stories. At this point, they have reached the goal, which is as the founder said several times, to be “A tax payer instead of a tax burden.” Yeah, he said that to them. That’s the no bullshit approach that I love about this organization. And it works. Again, look at the site to see the success rate; it’s incredible.
If anyone wants to become a member and drive in to LA with me and Erin on a Sunday, hit me up! It really is an incredible experience!