The pandemic has reinforced and exacerbated many of the inequities in our society across the categories of race, class, and age. In Los Angeles, where community organizations were already straining to serve residents before COVID-19 swept through the city, the situation has become even more challenging. At the same time, many Angelenos are wondering, “How can I help?” One way is by supporting the local food system and the ways we feed those in need.
After a dip in June then a surge in the following weeks, California continues to battle the pandemic as it subsides in certain counties but rages back in others. Los Angeles County in particular has seen a steady decline in cases but is still considered in the most dangerous color tier. Employment figures show a decline in unemployment to 11.4%, down from 13.5% during the height of the pandemic in July. That doesn’t include those who are still trying to file claims in the overwhelmed system, or those who are ineligible for unemployment benefits, like undocumented workers, who comprise about 10 percent of the restaurant industry’s workforce. And while the state has expanded its unemployment benefits for recipients, people are now increasingly relying on food assistance to get them through the severe economic downturn. Meanwhile, the pandemic has made it more difficult to coordinate volunteers, collect food, and distribute it safely.
The sheer amount of need in this time of crisis is staggering, but there are opportunities for people to have a real impact. Around the country, a network of mutual aid groups are working together to keep neighbors fed and deliver groceries to vulnerable people; chefs and bartenders are building pop-up kitchens and pantries to provide meals and supplies to help their fellow unemployed service industry workers; and citizens are creating fundraisers to keep frontline workers fed. In this guide, Eater LA has collected and organized resources for where to give, what to give, and how to volunteer in and around the Southland.
Editors have done their best to vet the charities included here, but it’s always important to make sure when you give money or time that the organization you’re supporting aligns with your values and has a transparent, proven track record. If you only have time or resources to give, give it, but monetary donations — especially those offered over an extended period — can be even more impactful because charities tend to know where the greatest need is. If you’ve chosen a group and aren’t sure what’s the best way to help, it’s worth reaching out and asking.
Mutual Aid Groups
Mutual aid organizations ensure that basic needs are met in a community, particularly where traditional aid is overwhelmed or falling short. Since the start of the pandemic, mutual aid groups have flourished throughout the country; in Los Angeles, community members have stepped in to do everything from delivering meals and groceries to providing showers for the unhoused through organizations like Collective Care Is Our Best Weapon Against COVID-19 and Mutual Aid Hub. Below are a few local organizations that provide food assistance, resources, and support:
Central LA or Citywide
SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition: The acronym stands for Silverlake, Echo Park, Los Feliz, Atwater Village, and Hollywood; it connects the unhoused to compassionate services like case managers and showers. The organization could use volunteers, donated items, and financial contributions. Volunteers can sign up here.
Community Fridge: The concept began in New York and hosts food-filled refrigerators throughout the city. One 24-hour accessible fridge is hosted by the Hot & Cool Cafe in Leimert Park, where anyone can drop off food or take what they need. Sign up here.
Mutual Aid Action Los Angeles (M.A.A.L.A): There’s a long list of services that M.A.A.L.A. provides, from free food clothing and tenants rights to housing and employment services. They can always use volunteers, apply here.
No Us Without You: Founded by Va’La Hospitality, an LA-based bar consultancy group, the goal of this organization, which focuses on undocumented workers, is to feed families across LA. Make donations or apply for assistance here.
Northeast LA Community Response, LA-Más: When the Safer at Home orders went into effect, LA-Más shifted its model towards providing immediate assistance to Northeast LA neighbors directly impacted by the crisis. Donate or volunteer here.
South LA and Southeast Los Angeles
My Friend’s House: This South LA-based organization distributes healthy food every Wednesday near Slauson and Crenshaw. Donations are welcome, but volunteers are sorely needed. Sign up on their volunteer page.
Buddy To Buddy SELA: Serving communities in Southeast LA and adjacent cities, Buddy To Buddy offers grocery support and assigns a buddy volunteer for the elderly, single parents with infants, and those with limited or no mobility. Volunteers check in with their buddy once a week. Sign up here.
Westside Friends: This Westside mutual aid organization is completely volunteer-run, and assists with contactless grocery runs, prescription pickups, and other small errands. They’re taking donations and need volunteers.
Westside Pacific Villages: After serving seniors for a decade, by providing routine tasks and assisting them to live independent, healthy lifestyles, Westside Pacific Villages shifted its focus during the pandemic by running errands and aiding contactless delivery. Volunteer or donate here.
Throughout Los Angeles
Polo’s Pantry: This mobile food pantry is dedicated to serving unhoused and marginalized communities throughout Los Angeles and coordinates thousands of food and meal drops. Connect with them here.
Home-y Made Meals: The LA-based network asks cooks to prepare homemade meals with ingredients funded by donations; drivers provide pickup and delivery service to shelters. Home-y Made Meals is a partnership between Polo’s Pantry and Eayikes. Sign up here.
Mutual Aid LA/Ground Game LA: The COVID-19 Mutual Aid Network covers ample ground and needs volunteers willing to drive, offer peer support, outreach, and organize inventory to name a few. Monetary donations are best right now.
All Together LA: Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this LA-based nonprofit has matched seniors with volunteers, who provide grocery and medicine delivery services. The organization currently also needs phone buddies, so LA’s elders are not isolated. Find out how to participate or volunteer here.
While many organizations aren’t accepting new volunteers at the moment in order to limit the potential spread of COVID-19, a handful of programs are still looking for assistance from individuals and local restaurants. Many of the opportunities involve delivering groceries to the elderly and immunocompromised. Others include assisting local food banks and rescues with collecting and distributing food to the public. Here’s how to get involved:
All Together LA: Assist a senior or two in your community with groceries or picking up prescriptions. PPE will be provided. Sign up here.
Westside Friends: Volunteer to be a block captain or assist with occasional no-contact assistance including grocery runs, pharmacy pick-ups, and providing healthy meals. Sign up here.
Los Angeles Mission: Volunteers have the opportunity to impact the lives of the men, women, and children residing in Skid Row. An orientation is required before volunteering. Sign up here.
Los Angeles Regional Food Bank: Volunteers help to box, sort, and glean food that is later distributed through the food bank’s network of more than 600 agency partners to our neighbors in need. Sign up as an individual or a group here.
Hollywood Food Coalition: Lend a hand in providing hot meals to those who need it through the Meal Engagement Program with two daily volunteer shifts including a daytime meal prep shift and an evening Meal Service shift. Sign up here. Additionally, the organization runs a Food Hub that seeks volunteers to sort and organize incoming and outgoing food.
Midnight Mission: This organization is serving thousands of takeout meals every day to homeless Angelenos through the pandemic. Volunteers may help with meal preparation, as well as assembling food boxes. Sign up here.
Meals on Wheels of West LA: Help deliver meals to senior citizens Monday through Friday using your own car. Volunteers must show proof of insurance and driver’s license. Email to sign up: [email protected]
Suprmarkt: This low cost organic grocery servicing low income communities seeks volunteers for diverse tasks including driving, packing, and flyering. Learn more and sign up here.
Hope of the Valley: This organization aims to prevent, reduce and eliminate poverty, hunger and homelessness in the San Fernando Valley. Volunteers are needed to prepare and serve meals daily. Learn more and sign up here.
St. Vincent Meals on Wheels: This program prepares and delivers nutritious meals to homebound seniors and other vulnerable residents across Los Angeles. Volunteers are needed to assist with kitchen prep, delivery, and more. Sign up here.
World Harvest: This food bank is seeking individual and group volunteers. Sign up here.
Union Rescue Mission: There are many opportunities for individuals or groups to help during the Covid-19 pandemic — both in downtown LA and at the Hope Gardens Family Center in Sylmar. Opportunities include meal service, childcare, and more. Sign up here.
Hunger Relief: Food Banks, Food Rescue, and Food Pantries
Food Banks, Food Rescues, and Distribution Organizations
Los Angeles Regional Food Bank: Colloquially known as the LA Food Bank, this massive organization south of Downtown supplies meals for thousands of families, and routinely accepts financial donations as well as large-scale food donations from distributors and food companies. It also maintains a handy food pantry locator map right on its own website.
Westside Food Bank: The Westside Food Bank, based out of Santa Monica, services communities west of and around the 405. The organization says that they are distributing more food than ever as a result of the ongoing pandemic, to the tune of millions of meals served Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The OC Food Bank: Much like its LA counterparts, the Orange County Food Bank partners with food organizations large and small — as well as local volunteers — to distribute food to under-served communities across the county. The Garden Grove-based organization also accepts ongoing financial donations as well as food.
Valley Food Bank: The Pacoima-based Valley Food Bank serves as a hub for the distribution of donated food and home supplies across the massive San Fernando Valley. They also regularly accept volunteers and financial donations.
Food Share Ventura: The Ventura County’s regional food bank Food Share accepts financial as well as food donations. They distribute millions of pounds of food through two warehouses, providing upwards of 75,000 meals monthly to residents in the county.
Food Bank of Southern California: The Food Bank of Southern California operates across county lines, distributing food to a variety of other charities and agencies. Based in Long Beach, the organization also channels its supply lines through a bi-weekly network of brown bag lunch deliveries for seniors.
Alma Backyard Farms: This do-it-all South LA enterprise not only works with formerly incarcerated people to help grow food, it runs youth education programs through local schools and operates a farm stand/social enterprise initiative that pushes some of that food back into food-insecure communities. Grocery kits contain both ingredients and finished goods from local retailers and restaurants.
Food on Foot: Food on Foot focuses primarily on LA’s growing unhoused population, providing meal kits, clothing, and education programs since 1996. The Hollywood-based non-profit does weekly free food drops and also uses donations to assist the formerly unhoused in learning food skills at their facility that will put them back into the employment market.
Feeding America Inland Empire: Across both Riverside and San Bernardino counties, Feeding America focuses on distributing food to nearly one million people who live below the poverty line east of Los Angeles County. As part of the national food bank network, Feeding America IE coordinates ongoing meals for thousands of people in need.
Palmdale SAVES: The City of Palmdale’s own SAVES program provides food to a variety of retirement centers, homeless shelters, and non-profits across the Antelope Valley, ruling on direct donations as well as block grants for funding.
Foodcycle LA: Foodcycle is a robust food recovery program in Los Angeles, working directly with city and county officials to keep hundreds of thousands of pounds of food out of landfills annually. That food is then redirected to volunteer organizations and various non-profit partnerships.
Los Angeles Food Policy Council: The LA Food Policy Council operates as both an advocacy and direct action level, working with state partners like CalFresh (part of the SNAP program) and LA’s own Good Food Purchasing Program to offer reduced-price (or free) meals for LAUSD students and others. It also works with the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network to make fresh produce available for those in need.
Food Forward: Southern California’s popular Food Forward acts as a localized food rescue, where volunteers coordinate to do picks and harvests, taking otherwise unused fruits and vegetables from backyard gardens and fruit trees, and redistributing them to nearly 2,000 different hunger relief agencies across the region. The organization also gleans food from the large-scale LA Wholesale Produce Market in Downtown for the same purpose, and is always looking for volunteers for picks.
Waste Not OC: The Waste Not Orange County Coalition focuses on securing food waste and redistributing it to a variety of non-profit organizations (primarily food pantries) across Southern California. The coalition also offers culinary training and maintains a robust list of pantries across Orange County, available in multiple different languages no less.
Food Finders: Orange County-based Food Finders redistributing perishable food items that would otherwise go to waste, sending it all instead to non-profit pantries and shelters across Southern California. Readers can donate funds or food items.
Soup Kitchens, Pantries, and Shelters
There are countless food pantries, charitable food donation groups, and hot meal stops across not just Los Angeles County, but the greater Southern California region at large — to say nothing of the hardworking shelter organizations like the Midnight Mission in Skid Row and PATH in Hollywood. These tireless organizations have spent decades feeding LA’s disappointingly large unhoused population, as well as the tens of thousands of food insecure families that exist across the Southland. Now, with the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis, their work has proven to be more vital than ever before. Below is a list of currently operating pantries and other available destinations for grocery and meal pickups, spread across Southern California. It’s far from exhaustive (even within the City of LA proper), so be sure to check out full databases at sites like 211, Food Oasis, at the LA County website, or at foodpantries.org for a listing by city.
Eastmont Community Center: The East LA-based Eastmont Community Center operates every weekend as part of the larger East LA farmers market, sending food-insecure locals home with free fresh produce and other grocery staples.
SOVA: Van Nuys-based SOVA, run by the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, gives families across the San Fernando Valley a five-day supply of food and grocery items, including both produce and pantry staples, once per month.
Grace Resources: The Antelope Valley’s Grace Resources provides a variety of important services for residents of Palmdale, Lancaster, and beyond, including clothing and education services as well as three-day-a- week grocery opportunities for those experiencing food insecurity. The center also delivers hot meals to those in need.
My Friends House: An extension of the Ascension Lutheran Church in Crenshaw and Hyde Park, My Friends House operates as a well-known South LA food pantry, turning items from local donation centers and grocery stores into meals for those in need.
Shepherd’s Pantry: With multiple food pantry locations across the greater San Gabriel Valley, Shepherd’s Pantry is among the largest organizations dedicated to feeding the food insecure anywhere east of Downtown LA. Locations include Baldwin Park, Glendora, and Irwindale.
City of Norwalk: Many independent LA County cities in greater Southeast LA provide their own food pantries and hot meals for those in need, including the city of Norwalk. Seniors can get daily hot meals for $2, and families can pick up at-home staples weekly.
The People Concern’s Annenberg Access Center: Santa Monica’s Access Center provides no-cost meals daily. Their grocery program provides grocery items, but reservations for groceries must be confirmed in advance by calling (310) 450-4050. Services are not exclusive only to those residing in Santa Monica proper.
Project Angel Food: The long-running Project Angel Food focuses mostly on delivering home meals to the at-risk population in and around Hollywood, including those with serious illnesses as well as the elderly.
Hollywood Food Coalition: Previously a place for sit-down meals for the unhoused population in Hollywood, recently the Hollywood Food Coalition has transitioned to takeaway meals for all in need during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
West Valley Food Pantry: The Woodland Hills-based West Valley Food Pantry supplies free food for the food insecure within the sprawling western section of the San Fernando Valley. The pantry runs daily weekday hours.
Community Organizations Providing Food Access
The People’s Bodega: It doesn’t get any more DIY than the People’s Bodega, a loosely affiliated collection of sidewalk food stands available for anyone who happens to come by. Initially started in New York City (hence the bodega) and expanded across the United States, the LA version of these stands (and related community fridges) can be found in places like an empty storefront doorway on La Brea to Highland Park, Exposition Park, and beyond.
Worker and Restaurant Relief
Dozens of Los Angeles restaurants have organized fundraisers supporting their staff since pandemic hit the city in March. Some of those fundraisers are ongoing and since then many other organizations have sprung up, offering support to hospitality employees in need and opportunities for people to put their money to work directly in the community.
One Fair Wage Emergency Fund: Geared toward restaurant workers in Los Angeles, this is a way to support tipped and other service workers who’ve been struggling during the pandemic. Workers can apply on the website for financial assistance while those looking to contribute directly can do so on the site as well.
No Us Without You: This organization helps undocumented workers, many of whom don’t have the same resources, and are absolutely the essential backbone that keep the restaurant and hospitality industries alive. Founded by Va’La Hospitality, an LA-based bar consultancy group, the goal of this organization is to feed families across LA. Make donations or apply for assistance here.
Street Vendor Emergency Fund: A very popular crowdsourcing fund that goes to support LA’s vital street food vendors, many of whom are undocumented and have been even more impacted by the pandemic due to the stay-at-home orders, curfews, and other restrictions. The organization’s next goal of $200,000 is still in progress after recently reaching $150,000.
Support + Feed: They focus on plant-based restaurants in LA, partnering with places like Veggie Grill, Donut Friend, Cena Vegan, and Crossroads, who receive funds and provide prepared plant-based food to various charity organizations around the city. This supports both the restaurants who have been impacted by the pandemic, as well as those charities.
Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund: This national organization is providing grants and resources to food service industry workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Donations to the cause can be made online.
Lee Initiative: Founded by chef Edward Lee, the Restaurant Workers Relief Program has partnered with restaurants across the city to provide meals and essential supplies to out-of-work and struggling food service workers.
Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at [email protected]