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.


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


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
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.

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.

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


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

Let’s Discuss Dignity

Twenty-two years ago I spent two days laying face down, crying into my living room carpet . Everything I had tried just failed.  Big things, a thousand small things, all of the things had slipped from my grasp and I was failing.

I had been psyched up to be a wife, and a young stay at home mother, and maybe someone who completed a BA down the road if I found time in my suburban dream. Instead, my relationship crumbled, Mervyn’s fired me (because I was obviously falsifying comment cards, it was impossible that I could be so good with people…but ask me about this another time), and I had 3/4ths of a degree in Physical Therapy with no way to get back into my life as I had known it.

When it “got real”, I pulled out the phone book, found the blue pages of government listing service and looked up the address to the Welfare Office. Bleakness.  I walked into to a dim green room where my shoes stuck to the floor and I will never be certain if the puddle in the chair next to me was apple juice, but I’ve decided to believe it was. In my hands I held a ten page, double sided application, and a pen. I could not fill it out. I must have made five trips to the Help Desk and I still wasn’t comfortable. I met with an eligibility worker who shamed me; pointed out that all the other white people on the building were employees, and send me home with a list of needed documents and a follow up appointment.  That was the day I walked back into my little apartment and folded onto the floor wondering if if I could ever get up again.

Twenty years later, or 2 years ago, I had my Bachelor’s Degree is Sociology, my own car, house, and no debt at all. I found my revenge on the County Welfare system by becoming an employee within it in a job that allowed me to do outreach work and volunteer in my community. My baby was off at  college, but a second child had arrived and I was still a single mother – only by this time I was doing okay. Education, house, career, and home life were all neatly checked off in the Success column.

   The floors of the Welfare office must never get washed.

I had this thought as I was lying face down in the lobby of the GAIN office in Burbank. Just seconds before I was walking a client to the door when the room spun and the floor ate my face. My doctors pulled me out of work and put me on medical leave.

Medical leave is nice and all, but waiting for Disability to come in so I could pay my bills and feed my youngest daughter was nerve-wracking. I had some concerns. I shared these thoughts with the front desk volunteer at MEND one Thursday morning in late January. I was in the San Fernando Road  office working on the silent auction for the Gala fundraiser my local non-profit throws to breathe life into their programs designed to help people survive in an impoverished neighborhood and find ways to leave that desperate economic strata. As we talked, Adela, the volunteer, walked me into the intake room and put me at a desk.  When a third person walked in, Adela said “This is Sonya and she needs to see if she qualifies for your program.” She smiled down at me and whispered “Come to my desk if you have problems with the forms” and disappeared down the hall. A week later an EBT card arrived in the mail.

This was the MEND effect.

Meet each need with dignity.

I was treated with dignity, and not because I volunteered for MEND, but because that is how MEND works. Some Saturdays I walk in through the floor to ceiling glass doors and stand by that reception desk just to watch the flow of faces. Little kids sit laughing at the tables, parents chat in the waiting room chairs, someone is always knitting in front of the clothing boutique, and bent senior citizens angle their grinning faces up to each other while they wait for food, or a medical appointment, or whatever special program is  offered that day.

Mend staff on Oscar night at universal stidios
MEND staff at their fundraising gala

The floor is not sticky. The room is not dim. The chairs are dry and clean. In my five years of volunteering for MEND, I must have had the opportunity to sit in every chair and even the one I broke in Lupe’s office was clean. I never intended to be a MEND client, even momentarily, and I never felt like one. I don’t think anyone does.

I’m used to volunteering at MEND

The MEND Effect is a design feature that started with the Rose family who just wanted to do a little something nice for their neighbors and then let others in on their idea until it grew into the community icon it is today.

MEND is not the heart of Pacoima. MEND is the limbic system that connects all of the other vital parts of the community ; politicians, doctors, dentists, tutors, teachers, schools, grocery stores, dance teachers, Health educators, financial institutions like Home Street Bank and Wells Fargo, ophthalmologist, dental and nursing students and their programs, the Welfare to Work program, courts, and more all touch and mingle in the bright beautiful building at Pierce and San Fernando Road and in the ETC nestled into the heart of Van Nuys Boulevard. MEND staff are likely to shake hands with a Board of Supervisors Member with the same warmth and enthusiasm they shared while clasping  hands with an elderly client.

Nene with “young volunteers “.

You will hear that MEND is volunteer run. Seasonal volunteers, like me, drop in for special programs like the Santa’s Workshop, Christmas in the Spring, and Head to Toes. Day to day volunteers answer the phones, pack food boxes, drive delivery trucks, teach English, send out mail, scheadule medical, vision, and dental appointments and perform the technical arts of Dentistry and Medicine. Volunteers are everywhere and they are hard to spot unless they come in the form of a Scout Troop. (It is safe to say that eleven-year-olds are not on the payroll.) MEND volunteers are trained, knowledgeable and efficient. This is not accident. Every volunteer is assigned to a department and each department has  staff members tasked with being an expert in their area and teaching their volunteers everything they know. Sharing their knowledge keeps the program alive and the volunteers take these skills back to the neighborhood where they are passed around again and the entire community is better educated, elevated and healthier.

The first time I used the EBT card (it is in my wallet as a reminder, ask and I will show you) was at Food 4 Less in Van Nuys and Glenoaks. The cashier leaned over and whispered “If you need more help than that, go to MEND”.

Volunteers at the 2017 Gala

 Poverty and food scarcity is only a paycheck in either direction. I donate money, time, and goods to MEND because I keep being reminded of this unfortunate truth. Through MEND, poverty can be survived with dignity.

Dignity will pull you up off the floor, not push you down in tears.

Back My Kickstarter – Shedding Affluenza

HElp teach Darla about the real value of people
Help teach Darla about the real value of people

You all know that Poverty and Homelessness are causes close to my heart. I am trying to find ways to explain poverty, culteral diversity , and appriciation for who people ARE rather than what they HAVE to my daughter.
This is my result.
I want to spend time taking Darla to all the different types of neighborhoods that we can reach on the weekends. WE will take photos and eventually publish an e-book about her adventures and what she has learned.
YOU can be in the book!

YOU can give us instructions on locations to explore.

We will be eating the local food and staying where we travel.

Our book will explore poverty, racism, cultural diversity and how other people live (rich and poor).

Please support us!

Successful or not, you know I won’t raise another Ethan Couch!

Gardening as a Catalyst for Social Change

Hello @Tarryhammer! Disclaimer: I have a little and not so secret crush on my friend Luke Ippoliti of MEND ( Meet Each Need with Dignity) in Pacoima. He works in the Food Bank and Home Gardening program.

MEND understands that 66% of residents are renters and use most of their money on housing , this leaves very little for toothpaste or clothing or food.
Francesca De Las Rosa of WORKS ( women organizing resources knowledge and services ) is talking about responding as land owners to the crisis of hunger with an edible landscaping program.


Amazon Smile. Charity While Shopping Online was simple and easy to set up from my phone…here are screenshots.

I found this from a Facebook posting by Vanessa, a childhood friend who is supporting a school.

Today I am going to ask MEND ( Meet Each Need with Dignity )  in Pacoima about their success with this and why I have not seen mention of it on their Internet presence.

In the meantime…whoo hoo. . . One more reason to enjoy shopping!



#FoodStampChallenge is worse than a hard level of @CandyCrushSaga

Eating and playing a quick round of Candy Crush are what usually takes up the empty moments in my life. I can do either of them unconsciously – and both set off small burst of serotonin and adrenaline. Read: They make me physically happy and content. Well, happy until you find something like Level 65 on Candy Crush and are stuck there for days, weeks, it seems like forever.

shopping supplies
insulated @thirtyone bag  and coupons and recipe books
Produce First
Produce First – I admit, I had to @Google “pinto beans”

In Candy Crush you have a limited number of moves and sometimes chocolate creeps in and takes over the game board – ruining your chance for success. In the Food Stamp Challenge we have a limited number of dollars and hunger is always creeping in and ruining everything.
Last week: I experienced what happens when a two-year old sees neatly packed single servings of food and fruits that she can access when hungry. Darla ate her way through 3 days of food in a day and a half. Her childish, growth spurt driven hunger is like the annoying chocolate in the game.  Just when you forget it is there, or think you have a plan to address is soon – but not immediately – it takes over and ruins everything.
When I first starting playing Candy Crush – I just played it without learning too much about it. I did the 5 step tutorial at the beginning of the game and then decided I was smart enough to conquer based on my innate brilliance. Stop laughing at me. Somewhere around level thirty I became frustrated and turned to the internet for cheats and tips and tricks. –

Learning to budgeting on Food Stamps is like learning to play Candy Crush Saga. In the beginning you see lots of options. Instead of 40 moves, you have over $300 to buy food and it seems plentiful – overly generous in fact.

So – you take the money and start shopping.
 The first things you purchase are luxury foods, prepackaged, ready to eat, processed foods that won’t take time to prepare. Perhaps you even through deserts into the cart. Seriously, how long until we lose Twinkies again?!?  Next are all the juices (they are fruits, right?) Steak – because it isn’t really your money and so $16 for steak doesn’t hurt your feelings when it is basically free.

And once your cart is half full of every food that takes away your feelings of sequestration , you mentally block meals and days of eating – only to find that nothing in your cart can combine with anything else to constitute a healthy meal. So: back go the Twinkies, muffins, chocolate cake. Back go the sugar infused fruit juices and you can live without the T-bone steak as well … right?
Into your cart go the basics that are only found around the perimeter of the store:

• Bags of fresh fruits and vegetables (oranges, grapes, corn, cauliflower, peppers etc.) • A block of meat that you ask the in-store butcher to slice because it is more affordable per slice than the prepackaged and water logged meats.
• Bread and tortillas • Blocks of cheese (cheaper than bags of pre-shredded)
• Peanut butter • Bulk Chicken chests, packages of ground beef, etc
• Eggs • Salt, pepper, seasoning salt
• Butter • Oatmeal
• Flour • Beans and rice
• Oil • Sugar
• Cream of chicken, or cream of mushroom soups • Pasta
• Tomato paste • milk

And you realize that with these basics you can make tacos, meatloaf, quesadillas, burritos, breakfast, squeeze your own juice. Combining these works in several ways to blast the nutritional roadblocks and flavor blocks you were so afraid would ruin this for you. Using these ingredients you can even make ice-cream.

Screenshot_2013-08-12-11-41-47-picsayIt is like combining a striped candy with a wrapped candy or color bomb. Magically obstacles disappear when you plan your moves ahead of time.
Like Candy Crush Saga, you have to try some levels several times. Unlike the game, once you run out of moves, dollars, meals, or food – you can’t just wait and have more tries gifted to you.

You have to beg for extra lives – which is far more annoying than going to Face Book and hitting up your friends for extra lives or tickets to the next level. This means going to Food Banks for boxes of food pre-chosen by someone else – and sometimes the food is weird or all starches, MEND Poverty makes boxes that are 60% fresh produce, but not all food banks have such good connections to grocery stores or donors whose money can be used to purchase these fruits and vegetables. That means that if your food stamp budget gets blown, your family could be living on Cheerios for over a week.

♥ my insulated shopping bag that kept the frozen items frozen and cold stuff cold as I got lost in the store came from . Tell her Sonya says Hello!

To help fund MEND (meet each need with dignity)’s food bank… go to and look up ” stop summer hunger ” or click: 

Food Stamp Challenge – aka: I will miss you coffee.

I won't afford a $2.09 cup of coffee on a FoodStamp budget
I won’t afford a $2.09 cup of coffee on a FoodStamp budget

$1.91 per meal, per person for a month. I have done it before, I can do it again.
Last week I had lunch with some of my favorite people who happen to all be connected with MEND Poverty in Pacoima where I do some social media volunteering. We were discussing #StopSummerHunger and the food bank and why it is important to have food available to low-income families. The topic of Foodstamp Budgeting came up – and because I was the only person with personal experience living on Foodstamps I felt like I was the expert.

Foodstamps is a sucky thing to be an expert on. Rocket science, exotic travel locations, expensive handbags, baseball statistics, and Pokemon : these would be rather useless things for me to be an expert on but I would rather know about them instead of what poverty and fear feel like. Just incase you were wondering…and I know you were not.

So, to flex my Foodstamp expertise muscles – I am going to spend August 2013 on the Foodstamp budget. Dear coffee, I will miss you so.
I used using to calculate the amount of SNAP/Foodstamps/CalFresh benefits available to Darla and myself as if I did not have a job. $348 for the month to spend on groceries and food was the result. Divided by 4.33 to calculate the allotment per week the dollars drop to $80.369. This is $11.48 a day or $3.82  a meal. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that is the amount for both of us. Separately our food allowance, dependent only on Foodstamps is $1.91 per meal.

Look for recipes, pictures of my terrible cooking ability, and lots of complaining about my lack of caffeine for the next month.
And – I dare you to try this too.