On the worst days, you are greeted with mountains of garbage, a broken soul experiencing a drug high, or another person experiencing a mental breakdown clearly from a lack of medical treatment.
Los Angeles, California suffers from a largely unaddressed homelessness issue. Living in poverty, many homeless people often starve right down the street of newly built “luxury” apartment buildings. Some have self-built shelter, but even with little means may starve, unable to adequately nourish themselves. Lunch On Me was created to help combat both this homeless epidemic and the consequent starvation.
A major part of the services we provide here is what we call “food drive-bys,” where we deliver meals to street angels in need. Whether they are single parents, disabled veterans, or even college students, it is our way of saying, “I want you to live.” A meal delivered means not only do we want to replenish your body but your soul as well. A typical day for a Lunch On Me team member begins with a food pickup from one of our sponsors. Next, they will head to the office to meet the daily volunteers and quickly assemble meals for delivery. After the not-so-laborious but often tedious process of packaging meals, it’s off to start the local drive-by.
On a regular day, three to four team members load the car up with the packaged meals and a few cases of water. They then travel from tent to tent, offering food and libations for nourishment. The communities we feed are not the prettiest or cleanest places. They are actually just as bad as the poorest communities in some third-world countries. On the worst days, you are greeted with mountains of garbage, a broken soul experiencing a drug high, or another person experiencing a mental breakdown clearly from a lack of medical treatment. The conditions are so bad that many people we discuss our work with often reply with ignorant comments like, “You guys aren’t raped when you go down there,” or “Do you carry a gun?”
In the beginning, we were just dropping off a meal and checking in on the well-being of our community, but now, we’re visiting our friends and family. The love, gratitude, and smiles that are shared during our encounters tell a story of family. On the nights when we are not introducing new volunteers to our non-profit, we are parked sharing stories, sometimes heartbreaking, with the community we have come to love and adore. These are the best nights—they mirror the summer nights my family spends sharing stories about one’s first scar or an embarrassing moment in school.
The moments we share with the homeless have helped to dismantle any walls they have built for protection while simultaneously creating a bond and friendship. These have become my most cherished relationships—they were established out of a place of complete vulnerability and honesty. We started from ground zero and approached one another with an open heart, a listening ear, and a shoulder to lean on. Nothing is expected from our friends—the past mistakes and secrets they share with us hold zero value.
Written by Karen Shirley
Photos by Ben Draper