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Every Sunday, homeless individuals who visit a particular parking lot in Hollywood are met with smiles and a hot meal.
What started as a single person serving chicken dinners out of the trunk of his car has grown into a nonprofit responsible for serving more than 250 homeless individuals weekly.
Founder Jay Goldinger started Food on Foot in 1996 to feed his homeless neighbors. He would pack up his car and serve meals outside the Hollywood Post Office.
Now, the nonprofit serves more than 11,000 meals annually. Functioning out of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s parking lot at 1625 Schrader Blvd., Food on Foot volunteers give homeless and low-income individuals weekly access to food, personal hygiene equipment, donated clothes and mental and physical health services through its Sunday meals program.
“We really want to serve our homeless neighbors and make sure that they have what they need to be as stable as they possibly can throughout the week until we see them the following week,” said Precious Boone, a program director.
After the Sunday meal program proved successful, the nonprofit grew, adding a program to help individuals experiencing homelessness regain their footing through full-time jobs and secured housing.
Members visit Food on Foot every Sunday to first volunteer with the meal program before receiving job training, including resume building and mock interviews.
One such volunteer is Morgan Bonner, who despite working full time, was homeless for three years.
Originally born in California, Bonner moved to Bermuda with her mother and sisters when she was 12 years old. She moved back to California six years ago at the age of 28 to pursue her dream of becoming a chef.
After working several odd jobs to raise money, Bonner enrolled in the St. Joseph Center’s Culinary Training Program and later earned a job cooking at Terranea Resort. However, she still couldn’t find housing.
“I was saving my money, trying desperately to find someone that would give me a chance to rent,” Bonner said. “One guy called me and said, ‘You don’t have any credit history,’ and I didn’t know what that was because we didn’t have that in Bermuda. I didn’t know I had to have that to just get a place to live.”
For months, she was living out of a car that a friend had given her, cleaning herself with wet wipes before work. One day, she left her car for a few minutes to take a shower and when she came out, the car was being towed.
Because the title was in her friend’s name, she couldn’t get the car released from impound, and she began renting a car to sleep in.
“It was so draining,” she said. “I was going to work to make money to keep a rental car just to be able to have shelter.”
That was when Bonner discovered the Food on Foot jobs and housing program. At the time, Bonner was commuting more than 20 miles from Compton to the program by train.
“It was a journey for me, but I was determined,” she said. “I knew they were going to help me and I was tired of being homeless, so I just kept telling myself, ‘I got this.’”
Members of the program receive help acquiring jobs in the hospitality and warehouse industries, and upon receiving a job offer, Food on Foot helps them secure permanent housing through partnerships in Hollywood and Koreatown.
Once members move into an apartment, Food on Foot pays their rent in full for six months, allowing participants to save money. Program directors set a goal for each individual to save $5,000 in case of emergencies.
“We want to make sure they stay in housing,” Boone said. “The stability piece is so important to us. We don’t want to get people into housing just to have them fall out.”
After the six months are up, program members “graduate” and begin paying for their apartment by themselves. However, they can still volunteer at the Sunday meal program two times a week to receive a subsidy for their apartment.
Bonner moved into her own apartment in October 2020, and said she instantly felt a sense of independence.
Now a graduate, Bonner said she has been able to restart her life. She is proud to pay for her own apartment and have a place to come home and unwind.
“I don’t know if it was a blessing or a miracle or what it was, but to have a support system to help you with any and everything that you needed, so many doors opened for me,” Bonner said. “It definitely made me feel like a part of society again and gave me the confidence that went away after being out on the streets for so long.”
Though she works long hours, Bonner said she made a commitment to show up at Food on Foot every Sunday to continue providing meals for the community.
As Angelenos consider volunteering for the holidays, Boone invited them to join Food on Foot for planned meal giveaways from 1-3 p.m. on Thanksgiving and a to-be-determined time near Christmas. However, she said Food on Foot always has a need for volunteers year-round.
Through volunteerism, Boone said the stigma around homelessness can be broken.
“These are great individuals; they have great minds and they’re really intelligent,” she said. “One of the goals I have working with them is to get rid of this ‘us versus them’ stigma. We’re all one community and they are just our neighbors in need.”
Aside from serving meals, the Food on Foot board made a commitment to match the first $100,000 in holiday donations. Proceeds will be put toward the job and housing program.
For information or to make a donation, visit foodonfoot.org.
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