April 2, 2016

Lunches for Bunches

Lunches for Bunches is a program in Downtown Los Angeles created by PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), where the center packs and distributes eighty daily lunch sacks for the homeless. Group involvement is encouraged, from churches to organizations to schools. So on the third Thursday of each school-year month, Oakwood Elementary contributes by sending students home with a brown paper bag and having them fill it with a lunch. A flyer is included and offers tips on foods to pack, such as a sandwich, produce, cheese, and assorted snacks.

Oakwood Elementary is currently in its second year with the program. Up until the fall 2014, our community service efforts focused mainly on holiday drives. At that point, however, we set new goals to expand Oakwood’s involvement.

According to Parent Org Community Service Committee member, Wendy Sartirana, “We wanted our students, parents, and staff to understand need is year-round, that our community, our city, and our planet have needs not just at the holidays but every day. And that service is not just a bolt-on thing we do at the holidays but something we need to bring into our daily lives.” She further explains, “We wanted to create a program that [Oakwood students] could internalize, emotionally connect to.”

What’s more, the proximity of homelessness in Los Angeles is a crucial reality we feel strongly toward, an issue that we wanted our kids and students to learn about. Since getting involved, the initiative has aided in de-stigmatizing homelessness for the kids by connecting them with families going through these ordeals, while inspiring in the students a greater appreciation for their own homes and the meals they eat.

The program is voluntary, with an average of 75-85% of families participating. Plus, there’s at least one mandatory, on-campus lunch-packing event per year to kick off the program, followed by an assembly about PATH. And many times, teachers make participation part of class homework assignments.

Also, our Committee assists with the bags, flyers, sign-ups, class collection bin distribution, and weekly lunch deliveries to two PATH facilities. We help organize the on-campus events as well as contribute food items and funds to purchase supplies.

For Committee participant, Ashley Jacobs, being involved means, “we are helping people in need in our own backyard … One of the most memorable moments was having the Johnson Family come talk to our students. The mom and the kids were amazing. They’d lived in their car and on Skid Row, and they worked with PATH and got into their own home, and are all excelling in school and in life. Seeing our students relate to this family and really internalize the issue, and their ability to make even a small difference was super rewarding and memorable, as were the Johnsons!”

Fellow member, Judy Choi, loves watching the kids prepare the boxes for collection because “their enthusiasm is infectious. And like Ashley, I felt the Johnson Family really impacted the motivation behind our initiative. The Johnson kids are so great, and the kids at Oakwood really connected to them.”

In addition to a deeper understanding of homelessness, we hope that PATH and Lunches for Bunches enhance the students’ outlook about service, identifying it as a inherent part of everyday life rather than something occasional. Judy asserts, “I am hoping the kids feel a natural gravitation towards service—that compassion is a natural byproduct of living and helping others, not extraordinary but rather something normal we do as a community or as an individual. Also, it feels good and can be really fun.”

Ashley adds, “Need is year round, and community service is just part of what we need to do in our daily lives to help our community. I also hope [the students] learn they can and do make a difference. And that they appreciate what they have and don’t take things for granted.”

For more information, visit: epath.org, or contact Tessa Madden (323-644-2202 or TessaM@epath.org).

Parent Org Community Service Committee Members, Ashley Jacobs, Judy Choi, and Wendy Sartirana.