Lunch on Me: Unconventional program offers plant-based food to SoCal's homeless

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- LaRayia Gaston believes fresh, healthy food should be accessible to everyone. And she's also concerned about making sure it doesn't go to waste.

"We live in a society where there's a lot of waste. Forty percent of food never makes it to a table," Gaston said.

That's why Gaston is working to change that. She's curated a network of grocery stores, food delivery companies, manufacturers and even corporations willing to give her the food they no longer want.

"Everyday it's kind of like a potluck, whether its Whole Foods, whether it's organic farmers markets, we make a meal out of everything that we have," she said.

Gaston then gives it to the homeless. Ten-thousand free meals a month are hand delivered with the help of 1,500 volunteers. Over the last four years, she's done it through a program called Lunch on Me. All the food is plant based.

"It is spinach and udon noodle salad. We have grapes, organic scones, granola. So, we introduce just the vegan lifestyle to people experiencing homelessness," she said.

Four weeks ago, Gaston and her friends expanded their business model, opening up La Bodega, a small organic 99 cent store near MacArthur Park.

The maximum price for food is $5. But if you can't afford that, you'll eat for free.

Ramon Aguilar is someone who experienced homelessness in the past.

"It's a place where you feel home, you feel comfortable, you feel they really care about you," he said.

One of the goals for La Bodega is to offer job training for the homeless. Barista training is now underway. Meantime, its healthy plant based products are drawing customers like Angela Zeimer, who until now, didn't know La Bodega's mission.

"You are coming here giving them your business and you're treating yourself, but also treating the community through them and it just feels really good," Zeimer said.

"Service really is not just being kind to someone you walk past, but actually offering your gifts, your talents your time," Gaston said. "So, if anyone feels moved by this and you can pledge $10 a month that would help us so much and that's what we ask everyone to do."

The group gets no government funding, so all of the meals and their services come from fundraisers and donations.
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