If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be? Many of us wouldn’t answer: Community Engagement Coordinator. But, for Natalie Flores it is devastatingly effective.
Flores was among millions in Los Angeles whose lives were upended due to the Coronavirus pandemic. She went from relationship-building and inspiring at-risk youth to being a paper pusher. Three weeks into the lock-down, she began feeling anxious from the negative socioeconomic impact affecting her Mar-Vista neighborhood. Hearing the cries of unemployed mothers saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to feed my family,” prompted her to take action.
Flores ran into a FoodCycle LA volunteer composting food at the community garden, which sparked solutions around the subject of food waste. “I’d been an urban farmer for 10 years and met a couple of incredible people at FoodCycle LA by researching landfills, and I asked them if there was any way I could get access to some of the surplus food being dumped to help feed my community,” she said in an interview with LA Weekly. After signing up with FoodCycle, she rallied volunteers and implored neighbors to save paper bags to distribute food.
Nourish LA – a grassroots localized movement formed to mitigate potential food waste to hungry people – was born in the alley behind her house with the help of Demetrios Mavromichalis.
Mavromichalis, owner of The Wood Cafe, provides distribution space, refrigeration, and storage for food donations. The Wood Cafe was forced to lay-off 70 employees and close due to COVID restrictions. The parking lot is now a distribution center for their Sunday drive-up food giveaway.
The operation, which Flores refers to as a “magical tumbleweed,” has grown from serving 50 to 1000 families since April. In addition to their food giveaway, Nourish delivers to 120 at-risk individuals and families who are immuno-compromised, without transportation, or elderly.
Nourish LA expands food access by providing free vegetable starts to community members with their groceries. Flores say’s, “we need to mitigate but grow as much of our own food as we can.” Now, recipients are donating food back to Nourish creating a hyperlocal food system.
Although Nourish was in response to COVID-19, Flores doesn’t plan to stop when the restrictions are lifted. She quit her job to manage her organization full-time. Nourish is collaborating with UCLA’s Anderson School of Business to create a template that can be replicated and used by community members to rally.
FoodCycle LA has supplied over 50,000 pounds of food in support of Nourish LA. We partner with non-profit organizations providing food to support the local community facing food insecurity – rescuing and diverting 200,000 pounds of food per month.