LaRayia Gaston’s nonprofit organization Lunch On Me is unique. Only two years old, this grassroots nonprofit delivers more than 10,000 organic meals to residents of Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles every month. They partner with stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts to redistribute food waste—produce that is still safe and nutritious, yet not sellable in grocery stores. As a result, 70% of the meals Lunch On Me cooks are comprised of food that otherwise would have been thrown out. “We’re making a huge dent in what zero waste really looks like,” says Gaston. A single meal made by Lunch On Me costs $0.89, and most of this budget goes toward purchasing products that are biodegradable. Not only is Lunch On Me having a profound effect on the health and wellbeing of Skid Row residents, but they’re conscious about looking after the planet, as well.
LaRayia is on day eleven of her two-week stay on Skid Row, where her team are filming the documentary, A Mile In My Shoes. LaRayia is committed to showing the world the reality of life as a Skid Row resident. "I need people to see what I see every day,” she said. “[The documentary] is literally lessons in and understandings of life and what life’s truly about, and why it’s important to love people and not walk by someone suffering. These people suffer well; it was hard for me to understand it, but now it’s so concrete. It’s unwavering. I really know what these people are going through. It took me to a whole new level of understanding. They’re like angels, literally angels.”
Lunch On Me’s booth at the festival will be selling LaRayia’s food-inspired art and merch, as well as fresh organic lemonade. 100% of the proceeds of their booth go to Lunch On Me’s exciting new expansion. “We’re doing The Festival to raise money to open up a yoga studio and coffee shop here,” she said. It will be a place for residents to delve into yoga and breathwork classes, as well as learn barista skills and gain yoga and breathwork teaching credentials. “I want to create a space where they can come to work and learn. That’s my focus."
The Los Angeles Coffee Festival is taking place in the same building where Lunch On Me’s first office was. “I’m not asking people to help people far away,” says LaRayia. “I’m asking them to help their neighbor. This is literally our community.” Los Angeles is a financial capital of the world, and yet next door there is extreme illness, comparable to the suffering found in third world countries. “Organic food isn’t something new, it’s natural, real food. Food that grows.” LaRayia wants to make sure that everyone has access to that real food, which will ultimately aid them in healing all areas of their lives.
“If everyone in LA volunteered one day a month, every problem in LA would be alleviated,” she says. “The problem is that people aren’t contributing, even in a small way. So I want people to be more aware of that and to find ways to contribute their talents. It’s not always about money. Sometimes it’s talent, sometimes it’s food, sometimes it’s time. There are so many things that could be done on a grassroots level to help and contribute. I want people to come to our booth and learn how they can give back. It’s a community effort; there’s power in numbers.” Pledging $10 a month - the price of two coffees - feeds ten people. This is a powerful way to support the work being done to nourish and heal Skid Row residents.
To learn more about LaRayia and Lunch On Me, visit lunchonme.com and visit her booth.