Lunch On Me Is Sharing Meals and Making a Difference on Los Angeles’ Skid Row
Written By: Kandace Cornell
Photographed By: Manasa Madishetty Meals to Skid Row
Expert: LaRayia Gaston
Credentials: Founder, Lunch On Me Meals to Skid Row
LaRayia Gaston woke up one morning and decided to feed 500 people. Gaston, the inspirational driving force who would go on to found Lunch On Me—an organization made up of dedicated volunteers who collect leftover food from restaurants around greater Los Angeles and personally deliver it to the homeless citizens of Skid Row—called some friends, chose a Saturday on the calendar and decided to devote the day to feeding the often-ignored cross-section of Downtown LA with nutrient-rich foods.
“I said, ‘Let’s pay for it, I’ll buy it,’” she recalls of the vegan pizzas and pressed juices that became the inaugural meal. Through word of mouth alone, 100 volunteers showed up that first day. Overwhelmed with gratitude for the positive response, Gaston decided to forge ahead. “I was able to facilitate people coming down to Skid Row who would never come down to Skid Row. So I said, ‘Okay this is great. Let’s do it again.’”
According to the statistics provided by the organization, homelessness in Los Angeles has increased 75 percent in the past six years, and an estimated 51,188 citizens are currently without shelter. By the same token, 30-40 percent of uneaten food goes to waste, on average. Lunch On Me, a fully grassroots endeavor, has created a systematic method to merge the disconnect in both areas, by redirecting waste (of nutritious and organic foods, no less) to struggling members of the community for just 89 cents per meal. Solely dependent on the kindness of volunteers and donations, it is without a doubt one of the purest ways to contribute to the charitable fabric of the LA community.
“Lunch on Me was created out of love, and it is 100 percent tangible now,” says Gaston. “It was something I thought about, and I didn’t allow it to stop with my thoughts. I wasn’t meditating on it, I was handing out plates.”
Giving back is a fundamental concept that is deeply rooted in Gaston’s spiritual core. To hear her speak, the deep devotion she has for community service goes beyond admirable belief in a cause, it’s practically ordained. “It’s an overwhelming joy,” she says. “It doesn’t feel earthly, it feels beyond that. It’s so liberating as a spirit, it’s a true expression of the internal self. There was a time in my life that I couldn’t even feed myself as a struggling artist, and now I can feed 10,000 people a month.”
Lunch On Me aims to reapproach the community as a whole, from the ground up. With her volunteers, Gaston throws monthly block parties, incorporating healthy living in the form of yoga, breathwork, essential oils as well as inviting barbers and manicurists to perform beauty and grooming sessions on the spot.
And then there’s the issue of alienation from the mainstream community. Gaston hopes to eradicate negative stereotypes around homelessness, and foster kindness and compassion.
“They are in tough circumstances, but these are beautiful people who just want to be seen and understood,” she says. “The biggest challenge is getting people out of their own fear to be of service. We’re asking people to be uncomfortable, to do things that they might be resistant to do.”
Gaston operates with an active desire to generate change, repair a fractured community and heal shared traumas through wellness, nutrition and self-care. She is steadfastly committed to her convictions and tireless in her motivation.
“I showed up,” she says simply. “It’s not a magic trick; there’s no way around it. I did the work. I spent hours on Skid Row talking to people, finding out what the needs are. Begging people to be kind and generous, begging people to love without reason.”
It’s that love without reason that Gaston most hopes to spread through her work. For those who ask how they can make a difference, her answer is simple. “Micro gestures,” she explains. “I’ve dedicated my life to it. Don’t make [donating] a seasonal thing, make it part of your everyday life to be kind, to be loving, to be of service.”
Love Is All Around: Love inspires me. When it comes from the purest space, you don’t get tired. You don’t think about the day you’re going to stop. You just keep going,” said LaRayia Gaston.
All or Nothing: Gaston says that happiness starts with passion and drive. “Whatever you’re doing, you have to give it your all. And then muster up even more. Find a way to replenish what you tapped out, and then give that, too.”
Next Up: The current goal is to create brick and mortar spaces like a yoga studio and a coffee shop as a platform to provide employment and enjoyment for homeless citizens and foster youth. Gaston asks for a simple donation of $10 a month to make the idea a reality.
Lunch On Me
Skid Row, Los Angeles 90013