Can We Talk About Food?

Food Insecurity  – it is a fancy way for saying “I could go hungry or be unable to feed my family”.

Food is a main part of human budgets. Food is fuel, medicine, community, and comfort – but without food, a person will surely die. Almost 13% of Americans are “Food Insecure”.

  • Food insecurity: “Limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” (Cook & Frank, 2008, p. 193)
    • Low food security: reduced quality and variety of diets
    • Very low food security: disruption of normal eating patterns and hunger
  • The risk of food insecurity extends to people living above the federal poverty level
    • Ineligible for assistance programs
    • Competing expenses (e.g. rent, utilities)

I try not to come  to you with a problem without showing you a solution.

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This is my back yard. That is a 4×8 garden bed with soil that is a mix of mulch, exploded rock and soil.

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It was assembled by volunteers from MEND. (This is my front yard and driveway. Yes, I helped too.) The green barrel is filled with the results of my attempt to clean up before they came.

MEND and other Food Banks give out boxes of food, and that is awesome. What could be better? Having a measure of self sufficiency is better. Being able to grow my own food, control the chemicals on the food, and teaching my child to garden . . . that is better!

Every Tuesday I am in a “Gardening Class” and I have learned all the parts of plants, how to recognize pests, ways to mix plants and how to water. I have seedlings sprouting on my kitchen window preparing to transplant.

 

Jackey of mendpoverty.org
Jackey of the VISTA program photographing how I topped the metal stakes.

Usually these go in soil, but my back yard is mostly pavement so the metal stakes stick up, and were hard to see so I topped them with Rubber Ducks. Yep, I am a mommy and the urge to baby proof doesn’t fade.

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Chef Adam and a volunteer shaking hands after a job well done. 

MEND and the California Master Gardeners are building these and teaching classes to the owners. I am excited to see how well this works and will keep you updated.

I can’t always control my income, but I can control some part of the access to food my family has so we won’t be insecure.

The Importance of Food to Health

Food is a necessary ingredient to sustaining human life. It is also culturally defined the community experience, a family gathering point, personal history, exercise and activity, a component of wellness, a social event, currency, crafts, and employment. (Paraphrased from Chef Richard Weinroth)

Food is expensive – even with coupons and food stamps. It is even more expensive if you don’t ave a lot of money and do not qualify for this type of assistance.  I was at MEND (I know, you are not shocked) asking the staff how they address this for their clients.

  1. The Food Bank
  2. The Food Pantry (where other food banks come for food)
  3. The Hot Lunch Program
  4. Homeless Food Bags
  5. Diabetic Food Boxes
  6. Home Gardening Program
  7. La Collectiva
  8. Kid’s Food Education
  9. Cooking Classes

It seems they have already given this some thought.

I am a terrible gardener. This is just another painful reminder that I am adopted because my parents and grandparents and great grandparents all have had meaningful and fruitful (see what I did there?) relationships with plants. With that in mind, and because I feel comfortable at MEND, I gave #6 a hard look and decided to try the Home Gardening Program.

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Hibiscus flower organs up close. It has boy and girl parts . I am glad it doesn’t shop at Target. 

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I took notes in the most Sonya way ever, I drew.

I have to say that they take this seriously and I already planted 4 different types of seeds. NExt I have to schedule a home site visit to see if I have room for a 4×8 garden plus soil delivery . I have 3 more weeks of classes.

Tell me why you this this might be a good or bad idea.

Homeless Services are Supposed to Help.

I love Los Angeles and admire the DPSS programs and @SheilaKuehl the BOS member for my neighborhood. After 11 years of working with and around them I have a deep appreciation for them.
So imagine how horrified I am to find out that someone has been homeless for years and has been asking the system for help but not finding any relief.

I just spoke to a mother who “timed out” of the system years ago. When she went into the game program for assistance, her worker was the woman who replaced me at Maximus in Burbank. I know this worker. I trained this worker. This worker knows what to do. 

Nevertheless, this mother was never offered the opportunity to complete her high school diploma which is a major stepping stone chords finding permanent employment or earning enough money to end the poverty of her family. She was placed in a work training program which is a wonderful step but now she has to find her own permanent employment and she is greatly hindered by the lack of educational milestones. She was also not informed of the resources available to her children to pay to get them to school while she came to work. Her small subsidized paycheck has been used to pay for hotel rooms for her family and bus fare for her children. Theoretically the County of Los Angeles would be able to help her pay for the hotel room and get her into a shelter and I’d be paying for her children’s bus fare.
I know you think this may sound excessive and entitled. You are absolutely wrong. Parrots cannot go look for work if their children do not have a safe place to be. If they don’t have a safe home we can spend time in or childcare or somebody will watch them or a school where they can be supervised and learning, a mother or father is that tied to their children. You may have noticed an employer’s do not enjoy it when your bring your family to work with you. Addressing the child care issue and transportation for children is a major step and finding employment and ending poverty for their family. It is one of the reasons I really appreciate the DPSS program.
So this mother is staying in a hotel and connect it to the local shelter which is connected to DPSS and overseen by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. My suggestion is that she contact Sheila kuehl and ask for additional assistance and review of her case.

Just talking to this Mom, I could feel how helpless she was feeling and he’ll frustrated she was. I could see how the term and she’s been and also track all the positive step she’s been making to improve her life and the lives of her children. This mother is doing everything right and somehow everything is going wrong for her. I take it personally, because if I were still a gain worker, this would not be her situation. I hope.

Toilets, Because s#!+ Happens

Los Angeles has self cleaning toilets for the public to use. What this really means is that there are self-cleaning toilets out there that homeless people can use because the general public can use a toilet inside a restaurant or a store that their patronizing has homeless people are often turned away by signs that say for “customers only”.

Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission, and one of my personal heroes, recently stated that there are just 5 self cleaning toilets in use for the homeless.

I did some math, and it breaks down to LAS homeless using the toilets at a ratio of 360 bladders and bowels per toilet. You would almost have to stand in line to use the restroom again as soon as you were done in order to have access to it by the time you needed it again. That is assuming that you only went pee 4 times today. A well hydrated human should be urinating at least 7 times a day. (That last statement was more of a factoid  my father likes to throw around than a scientific fact that I’ve researched, but  I find it to be accurate.)

LA Times article in the toilets from 2013

I have been saying for a long time that Skid Row is not a place or a feeling, it is a smell. It is the fetid putrid smell of human waste period excrement is smeared on the sidewalk and urine stains building walls.

As you drive down the streets you see people hunched between cars with their pants down trying to poop as fast as they possibly can to avoid detection, to be as helpless and exposed for a short amount of time as possible, and to retain as much dignity as possible while doing the most human of bodily functions.
It is unfair that the Mounted Police Officers can take the horses down San Pedro and have the horse’s poop on the street but they will arrest a human who does the same.i have McDonald’s toilet tokens in the cup holder of my car to hand out to people I know who live there.

Yes, there are places like laugh community that runs a public toilets and showers where people can come inside and use the toilet with running water and soap. But the doors closed at night and people need to urinate in the middle of the night. I know so many people who have kept the five gallon buckets by their boxes or 10 because that’s what they had to pee and and in the morning they try to find a gutter to pour it down. In an era where we’re already costing people their health insurance, I don’t think that pouring feces and urine and public places is the wisest of health decisions, now more than ever.

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I was taking a walk around my local park today and realized that there are far more open Toilet stalls there than there are the entire downtown area of Los Angeles. Nobody likes being reminded that people are homeless. Nobody likes seeing homeless people. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could see them and treat them with respect. Wouldn’t  it be nice for people to be seen and not smelled?

MEND Gala Wrap Up

Every well run fundraiser is well planned. Sometime in September the lights stay on for late Wednesday evening meetings at the MEND center on San Fernando.

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I have never been a “lady who lunches”, instead I am a “lady who grabs my kid from daycare, zooms through McDonald’s and rushes up a flight of stairs to kiss 25 faces before sitting down and starting kindergarten homework while the meeting starts”. It is not glamorous, or well executed, but it is how I roll.

How the Committee works

Despite how I perform as a Gala member, everyone else comes with pens and notepads and ideas. We have been doing this for seven years and tiny factions have formed. People gravitate to tasks like solicitation, public relations, auction items and volunteer recruitment the ways that bees pollinate their favorite flowers.

Bigger issues such as ticket prices, Board Member engagement, entertainment, production features and suggestions for growth are openly and freely debated.  There are laughs and sometimes there is wine.

Starting in December the meetings go from monthly to weekly.  We say MEND’s mission statement, discuss dollars, order favors (thanks Aimee who hated me in highschool but comes through for MEND and me every year at AB_Unlimited), bond over our love of Mr. Urbano from Universal Studios and get ready for the big event.

The day before the Gala we load up a large truck with supplies and I pretend that I know how to create lovely silent auction baskets while my daughter plays with the COO’s kid. MEND is a family friendly affair for staff and volunteers alike on the weekends.

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Family affair  – Mr Kelly, and Carrie’s son and his dancing lady friend. (I borrowed this photo from Facebook)

By 11 am on Gala day the committee is assembling table decorations, setting everything up, wandering around in curlers and eventually laughing in the ladies room as we fix zippers, share lipstick and discuss slips and shoes. (I gave my shoes to my friend Tarry who used to be a MEND employee and now volunteers.)  We are our  own special sorority. Sometimes silly, always serious about our goal.

Where does the money go?

This is the only big fundraiser MEND has all year.  MEND’S budget has two great needs: homeless services and Medical Dispensing.  MEND has a great Diabetic program with specialized food boxes, nursing, education and blood testing & Insulin. Insulin saves lives and it is hard for us to put a price-tag on it – but the manufacturers have managed to do that and MEND pays so that we can give the medication to clients in need.

Thank you Heritage Provider Network and other generous donors.

The funds raised at the GALA are the operations budget, the orphaned program funds for homeless services, showers, the Diabetic program and all the wonderful and needed programs that are not glamorous enough to attract other directed donations. Sure, there is food and music, and a great show on television combined with an awesome MC from ABC7 each year (This year we had Sid Garcia; in previous  years Danny Romero served) .

As committee members we are COMMITTED members to supporting this oasis of help in a desert of need.

How do we know if we have done our job well?

This is what happens when an Analyst is your Committee Chairperson.

Robin, Victoria,Steve and Susan watching the analysis
Every well run fundraiser is well planned. This is what happens when an Analysist is your Committee Chairperson.
Yasmin Serrato explains the success and areas of improvement to Pablo and Rita

If you look in the window you can see a reflection of a computer spreadsheet that is being projected from the television. Yasmin is walking us through comparisons to previous years and taking notes. We are always giving feedback.

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There is always magic in giving. Victoria gave Darla a wand from Universal Studios where our gala is held.

My youngest daughter has been on the committee for the past six years, and she has made some lifelong (6 years that is) friendships and connections that only enforce my love for MEND. The people behind the scenes are as passionately in love with the goals as the staff and day to day volunteers. Now we go through the long hiatus of waiting for Fall to begin again.

While we wait, think about joining us. We have food, and the occasional cookie, and so much fuzzy fun. If there is something you want to donate to our auctions, let me know because it is tax deductible.

From the Locked Psych Ward

I spent the day in a locked Psych Ward, or the “BHU” as we call it.

It was loud and filled with free range clients walking, talking and visiting  with each other, or rocking in corners.

Judging  people and ignoring them as nuisances is too easy. Seeing them as people who are ill and in pain means recognizing that they need and deserve more care. Care is scary,  hard, and time consuming.
Receiving good care should be their right.

Why am I bothering you with this on a page about to h homelessness and poverty: it is hard to hold a job when you can’t think clearly. A job means money and money means housing and housing means you are less of an expense for the other taxpayers. Sound mental health is also key to staying close to family and friends who are your support networks.

Homeless Showers


The San Fernando Valley  Rescue Mission and MEND combining  together to bring hygiene and dignity to our neighbors who don’t have access to soap, water and privacy.

#peoplehelpingpeople #mendpoverty 

The Youngest USC Master’s Student


“Fight On!” Is the motto for @USC. This is how I am fighting on to my goal when Los Angeles City Parks and Recreation gave me last minute notice that they have Caesar Chavez Day off.

Yikes.

So, off to campus we go. Thanks Professor Kurzban for letting her audit your class today.

When you’re a single parent, you do what you have to do to achieve goals.

#usc #fighton #childcare