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Hippie Kitchen

Los Angeles, California

According to www.feedamerica.org there are 49.1 million Americans living in food insecure households. That includes 16 million children. That is completely unacceptable in a country that has the vast resources we possess. No matter where your mindset comes down on the side of the 1% vs the 99% there is no debate about the travesty that is 16 million children going hungry. (that leaves 33.3 million hungry adults trying to care for 16 million hungry children). September is National Hunger awareness month and I was attempting to figure out the best way for me to do my part.

Southern California is a beautiful place to live. Perfect weather, beaches, constant outdoor recreation but also 10,000 homeless in the central ghetto of downtown Los Angeles commonly referred to as Skid Row. 10,000 homeless, poor, and marginally employed residents living in street encampments and rescue missions! What a dubious honor being nominated as "the homeless capital of the nation" That is the epicenter of hunger in Los Angeles. I decided to volunteer at the "The Hippie Kitchen" The actual name is the Hospitality Kitchen but everyone knows it as the Hippie Kitchen. lacatholicworker.org/visiting-and-volunteering/soup-kitchen  They take walk in volunteers every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You must commit from 730am to 1245pm. If we as a people we can't commit 5 hours to our hungry fellow citizens then in my opinion we have reached a dangerous tipping point in this country. My drive into the area was eye opening enough to understand the gravity of the issue of homelessness and it's corresponding hunger problem. Blocks and blocks of lean to's, boxes, rudimentary tents and multiple blankets on sidewalks. Displaced citizens with lives and stories and feelings and hopes and cares and dreams with paths that had brought to this point on their life. This should never be an opportunity to judge like so many feel compelled to do. Our mindset should always be, how can we begin to start to solve this problem. Well, I was going start by rolling my sleeves up, putting on gloves and a smile and getting to work. When I arrived at the location I immediately saw the entire side of the building that housed the kitchen was painted in an amazing ,sidewalk to roof, mural that is given the name  "God In The Bread Line" That set the tone for the day. As I approached the kitchen I saw a group of 5 people who appeared to be fellow volunteers standing on the corner by the entrance of the facility. Indeed they were, and even better they were volunteering as a group from Abbott Nutrition. They were a good portion of the Southern California sales staff that services products to hospitals in the area. Nutritional drinks etc. for patients. Let me say this to upper management of Abbott; give  these guys and gals a raise...they are simply awesome. Heartfelt, hard working, sympathetic, compassionate and downright good people. It was a pleasure to be  an honorary part of Abbott team that day and work side by side with them. (special commendation to Keith for sitting at the onion peeling station with me crying our way to good will!!) Upon arrival we were greeted, signed in and briefed on the basics of how the kitchen volunteers operate.

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The Hippie Kitchen

821 E. 6th St.

(Corner of 6th St. and Gladys Ave,)

Los Angeles, CA 90021

"Our soup kitchen, known commonly on the street as “The Hippie Kitchen” is located in the central city ghetto of L.A.’s Skid Row. With over 10,000 homeless, poor and marginally employed residents, this area, with it’s numerous street encampments and rescue missions, has been dubiously nominated “the homeless capital of the nation.” It also is the most policed area in the nation, indeed second only to Baghdad’s Green Zone as the most policed area in the world."

Our leader was Faustino Cruz, the director of the kitchen, stoutly built, strong, sleeveless shirt fully displaying his physical strength however, his heart was bigger than his arms his smile more powerful than his physique. It has to be that way. The work they do is hard work, never ending work and an absolute lifeline to the people of that area. For full disclosure I am not fully versed in the facts about how many full time volunteers they have, if they all live in the Hennacy House that is associated with the organization or exactly how this unbelievable  operation totally comes together. So I don't feel qualified to give a complete account of all of the amazing people I worked with that day. I only admit that because I will be returning to fully immerse myself in the stories of each person who dedicate a portion of their life to feeding the hungry at the Hippie Kitchen and illuminating those stories to what ever extent they will allow me. My hope is to do a video story at some point, however, this is a group that does what they do because they know it's the right thing to do, and they seek no recognition. They may balk at the idea which would be completely understandable and I would honor that refusal with the same awe I had watching them work that day. But in this man's opinion they all deserve massive recognition and huge accolades!

 

We got a quick tour of the kitchen. A wall of mega-stoves with 6 burners topped with immense pots full of simmering beans. (I found out later that trying to stir those cauldrons weighing about 80lbs each made one, me, feel like a small child!!) multiple chopping stations for salad, vegetables, bread, grating cheese etc. sinks, storage, dish washing station, amazing photos and a piano. The serving counter was at the far end of the kitchen and an entrance door and exit door for our hungry patrons led to an outdoor area with trees and multiple picnic tables. Everyone in attendance that day to do good works gathered in a circle, introduced themselves, grasped hands to close the circle and had a group prayer.  Then anyone who wanted to espouse a personal prayer could do that as well. You could truly feel the heart and soul of the people we were with coursing through that circle. That shared energy was palpable and we knew we had assembled a team that came together randomly but bonded together seamlessly. It also just happened to be 9/11. Add the emotion of that day to our mission and we were unstoppable.

 

After lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, and carrots and onions were chopped bread was cut and and everything was put in its proper containers to be dished out in orderly fashion. We were assigned positions for the food line. Prior to manning our stations we gathered in a hand held circle one last time before we began serving to reinforce that the people we were serving were just like like us, but in a position of need at this point in their lives and deserved our love and respect. Amen. Commence our task...One person continually handed a paper plate to the next person who placed a hearty helping of beans on that plate who then placed that plate into the hands of a thankful hungry citizen of humanity, who was then offered salad, bread,  grated cheddar cheese on the beans if so desired (a plus I hear that isn't always available) then a napkin and a spork. Some of us were assigned to replace food bins, retrieve containers for food to travel, occasional spill maintenance, paper cup replacement and a team policy of never ending smiles!! Other staff members continually refilled large containers of ice water and replaced empty large bowls of apples with full bowls on the picnic tables in the eating area .

 

What happened for the next 2 plus hours will forever be indelibly etched in my mind and my heart.  That same scene...over and over and over. Orderly but constant, wrought with "please" and "thank you" No arguments, no violence, just a cross section of meaningful Americans with an empty stomach. We need to remember, we all need help at sometime in our lives. Don't judge...act!!! What I witnessed was a continuous line of our hungry brothers and sisters. Not lazy, not wanting a handout not wanting to live off of the government, just people wanting a chance to see some light to help them find their way!! The staff estimated we served around 1100 plates of food . One thousand one hundred...I want you to see that written out...take that in for a moment. Then consider that is one kitchen in one city of thousands of cities and towns in this "wealthy" country that repeats the same operation I had just been a part of. That is staggering, and unacceptable. This problem is real, we cannot turn a blind eye to our fellow citizens who suffer from hunger.  This was eye opening and should be witnessed by every person in this country.

 

I graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Communications but on this day I enrolled in Hunger 101...maybe the most important class I have ever taken. I learned so much in that 5 hours. That our unfathomable needs need to be met by our unyielding human spirit. That compassion cannot be meted out to a particular group for a particular reason. We are all in this together, no one is exempt from the potential to fall and ' one should look down on anyone unless you are helping them up" (stole that from Mother Teresa..I think she would appreciate the plagiarism!)

 

I could go on forever with this experience but I want to finish telling you about a person who stole my auditory system and my heart on this day. Arnal Kennedy. Arnal is the dish washer at the kitchen. From the moment we started our work I heard the most melodious voice I could have ever imagined. I felt like I was working in the lobby of Motown. Arnal sang from the sink and from the heart. His voice was Marvin Gaye meets Teddy Pendergrass. He sang to feel, he sang to heal and he sang in appreciation of his life. I cannot express the joy that this man brought to me on this day. Music is a gift, a beautiful voice is a gift, Arnal Kennedy is a gift. (Note one of the pictures attached to this story and look at the smiles on the faces of Arnal and yours truly!!) The entire staff and volunteers at Hippie Kitchen are a gift!! I will return soon to roll up my sleeves again and do whatever the amazing staff asks of me in service of my fellow men and women who struggle to endure an empty stomach. And Arnal...this time you and I are going do a duet...you are my friend, you are my Brother and it would be an honor to stand by your side harmonize!!

 

Peace to all and remember, we are all in this together!!!

Walk to End Alzheimers

Columbus, Ohio

September 20, 2014

I have great sympathy and compassion for all people dealing with disease, and their care givers. Sometimes circumstance will hasten and heighten your awareness and impact of a particular disease when are directly confronted with it. Alzheimers is that circumstance for me. When you are faced with the reality that someone you love dearly has been diagnosed with a potentially debilitating disease you can either go into a hole or take a deep breath and spring into action! I chose the latter.

 

I could have chosen to participate in a "Walk to End Alzheimers" in Southern California but my heart, and the heart of this matter, lies and presides in Columbus, Ohio. My immediate family is now dealing with Alzheimers and it is uncharted waters for all involved. I had an extended stay in Columbus last month and upon learning that the Walk to End Alzheimers in Columbus was Saturday September 20th I decided try my best to network while I was in Columbus those 10 days to set up doing a video story of the walk. Enter David McCreary, Kenny Ruffin and Jennifer Monroe-Sega. You will see first hand how these three incredible people helped bring this video project to fruition.

I met David in the most unlikely of ways. I won't get into the details but suffice it to say it may have been divine intervention. He is an unbelievably talented magician, and host. His combination of sense of humor and slight of hand is, quite frankly, ridiculous. He agreed to co-host this "Feel Alive" video project and I am blessed to have had him. He co-hosts the Ohio Lottery Cash Explosion Show and is in high demand as a magician. Don't even try to keep a straight face around him or figure out his prestidigitation or you will lose your mind. I am humbled that he carved out time to lend his heart and humor!

 

Kenny Ruffin is a childhood friend who is an accomplished musician, operates his own production company and is a flat out tireless humanitarian. He volunteered his talents and time as well and I will forever be indebted.

 

Jennifer Monroe-Sega is an angel!!! She is the director of events for the Columbus Alzheimers Association and so much more (If I didn't get that exactly right you can reprimand me Jennifer!!) and was the Alzheimers walk diva!!! (her words...and in my book she can be whatever she wants!!!) I actually didn't have contact with her until I had returned to Southern California in late August. We spoke on the phone, made an instant connection for a common cause and she was accommodating beyond my wildest dreams in making the video story of the Columbus Walk to End Alzheimers "Feel Alive" segment.

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So when you look at the photos and see the crowd that assembled that Saturday September 20th ,2014 and the shenanigans going on among David, myself, and all who took part, know that I am in awe of each participant that day.  I am so grateful to David, Kenny and Jennifer for helping feel like I can make a difference. Thank you to my family and friends who came out early on a Saturday morning when they could have been sleeping in on one of the few days they get respite from their full lives. My Brother Bob, his son Matt and his beautiful wife Leah and their spectacular son (my GREAT nephew) Madden James Hurt, who only a few months past his first birthday was out in full force supporting!!! What a gift they are in my life!

 

My friends from Austin Texas, Dusty and Nikki Green. We had previously worked together on the "Best Of The Road" project in 2012 and the stars aligned that they were in Ohio doing another video project and stayed an additional 36hrs to support the cause of ending Alzheimers. With friends like that I don't need to get on the Ohio Lottery Cash Explosion Show...I have already won the friendship lottery. Check out their website www.Twofortheroad.com/wordpress/sample-page/

 

My great friends Mark Holdrieth, Brad Sorensen and his beautiful daughter Rachel you know how I feel about you!!!  And a special thank you to Joe from the Joe Show on Q-fm 96 who was the emcee of the event. The amount of publicity you rolled out for "Feel Alive" on that day was almost as prevalent as your heart, soul and talent for the cause of ending Alzheimers. Much love Joe!! I can only hope to do many more events with you and hear you say the names "David and Gary" see I think you did it again....."HE SAID OUR NAMES...HE SAID OUR NAMES!!!

 

Thank you Columbus for supporting the Do Good spirit at every turn, and thank you for continuing to enable this Ohio boy to "Feel Alive." Enjoy the photos for now...video story soon to follow...

Peace, Gary

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