Monday, April 22, 2024

The dignity of a hot meal: CSULB, LBCC food pantries find support via Bixby Knolls business association—but need more


“The smiles and gratitude behind the stories of the students that depend on these food pantries? They’re impossible not to cheer for—and that’s why it’s so important we get the support we need to continue to make it happen.”

These are the words of Blair Cohn, head honcho of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, who received an anonymous donation directed toward the Bixby Knolls Community Foundation nonprofit earlier this year to do one thing: Deliver hot meals to college kids that need them. And without that donation returning again, the organization needs all the donations it can get in order to assure the program continues.

The result? 80 hot meals delivered every Wednesday for the past year.

“Blair approached Lola’s Mexican Cuisine about making meals for students living in poverty and facing food insecurity in the wake of post-COVID,” said Luis Navarro, co-owner of Lola’s locations in both Bixby Knolls and 4th Street. “Being one of a few certified World Central Kitchen sites on the West Coast, Blair thought we would be a perfect fit for the project since we had already fed over 600 elders throughout Long Beach six days a week during the pandemic. We began the meals with the students in mind but following the strict dietary guidelines of WCK low sodium, lean protein, vegetables, no sugar. Well-balanced, flavorful, home-made meals.”

Robb Smith of Alley Cat Deliveries was then brought on to deliver the meals, 40 to LBCC and 40 to CSULB, each to their food pantry spaces that typically provide students with dry and canned goods, with the occassional ready-to-eat cold goods like sandwiches and dairy.

But hot meals? A rarity.

“It’s an important passion to make sure students don’t go hungry,” Smith said, “and we serve this mission to make sure we’re available for people to have a hot warm meal. It’s just a simple sense of dignity.”

And “sense of dignity” is not be understated: In a study released this past August, given any previous month, at least half of Californian college students have experienced trouble paying for meals and nearly 20% experience some form of homelessness. Restaurants, simply put, then become a luxury.

“We went on a ride along back in February and I was floored and tremendously touched by what we encountered,” Navarro said. “The meals were so popular that rules had to be implemented to help organize the chaos. These are young students that have had a rough go at life: Living in cars, homeless, couch-surfing or living on the streets… Just trying to turn that corner, trying to get some luck on their side and help themselves, their families, siblings. Some of the students we met with were the bread winners for their households. It truly was eye opening and inspiring.”

Courtesy of BKBIA.

This $50,000 donation followed two previous donations in the same amount, the first with the donors requesting that the gift be used “to help keep restaurants afloat,” while the second donation was for local non-profits to supplement “operating and marketing expenses with the condition that the funds be spent at Bixby Knolls businesses.”

The third—and final—donation was for the college students. But with the sincere love and gratitude expressed from those receiving the meals, Cohn understood he and the Bixby Knolls community have to work on their own to assure the program moves forward.

“It’s really simple: We just need the money to make it work,” Cohn said. “We have the entire infrastructure down, from the people in the kitchen at Lola’s to Robb’s delivery services, to the people who serve the meals in an efficient fashion at the colleges. We just need the financial backbone to continue it—and I hope Long Beach can come through.”

The sponsorship runs out at the end of December. All support is appreciated.

To donate to the hot meal program dedicated to Long Beach college students, click here.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.



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