From Mar Vista to New Life Society
9.11.18 — In our newest Farm to Table blog post, intern Joyce Liu highlights New Life Society, an organization that receives fresh produce from the Mar Vista Farmers Market for a mobile food pantry in Leimert Park.
The beautiful spring of Southern California brightened up the Sunday Mar Vista Farmers Market with fresh greens, citrus, apples, and some early cherries. The wonderful smell of warm bread and fruit met in the air, wafting into people’s nostrils and refreshing their minds.
“Excuse me, would you like to donate anything today?” Near the end of the market, a group of volunteers from Food Forward gleaned produce from vendors that would otherwise go to waste and distributed it to local hunger-relief agencies. Food Forward’s Farmers Market Recovery Program has recovered 2,400,791 pounds of produce from 24 farmers’ markets throughout the Los Angeles and Ventura, the equivalent of 9,603,164 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Some of this gleaned produce went to an organization called New Life Society that distributes food and offers life counseling. When I met Yogita at the market, the person who runs their local chapter, she was busy sorting items from the donations for immediate distribution in the afternoon. With a friendly smile and cheerful voice, she invited me for a site visit to her mobile food pantry located in Leimert Park.
“I began to do this a few years ago when I came to study film in LA and inherited New Life Society from Millie Mims. Traditionally, we believe in the healing power of food.” Yogita stood by the side of her display of Food Forward boxes, speaking while waiting for people to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables. She was drawn to New Life Society through compassion and drive for justice. “A lot of people in the neighborhood are struggling with their lives and this is partly due to a negative fostering environment. Many of them end up homeless, addicted to the drugs, and fail to sustain their life.”
Besides making films and feeding those in need, she has also been active in advocating for a better livelihood for the homeless at community councils. “But nothing happened,” she bemoaned, “so I figured: ‘if you want to do something good, just go ahead and do it.’” Her courage and perseverance pushed her to achieve her dream of building a sustainable community by making healthy food choices more accessible.
Edifying through Ndyuka Wapishana and American culture, she used her rich knowledge about food to develop natural remedies and great recipes to share among the neighborhood. While the bulky orange branches in a box stumped everyone who saw them, Yogita saw the value. Instead of throwing them away in the compost, she advised a mother to boil the leaves and drink the tea to treat mucous. Yogita was also innovative in creating some combinations of food to “give some flavors” (e.g. hummus with some greens and nasturtium), which she considered crucial in making any healthy dish favorable. I asked what her secret was in was creating these recipes. She smiled and said: “Well, I got a lot of inspiration from my mom. If you are fighting too much, you are probably eating the wrong food.”
Throughout my interview with Yogita, there were warm greetings, hugs, and lovely chats between her and the people who came to pick up food. From my point of view, they were more like friends than merely clients.
In envisioning the future of New Life Society, Yogita is looking to create more inclusive and established programs beyond their food pantry services. She is hunting for better housing to accommodate the recipients of the gleaned produce as well as the potential volunteers. Besides the current location in Crenshaw, she is also working with an adult day care center and organizing a few vegan cooking nights. Despite the current difficulties, she was positive about the future: “ I have people like you who come visit and help from time to time. I can handle things well for now, but I will need more volunteers in the future when I get the house.”
Food fulfills our stomach. More importantly, it is the medium to communicate with hungry souls in hopes of offering them a sustainable life solution. It was great to shadow Yogita from New Life Society—from the food donation, to natural remedies, to individual livelihood and community development. She is grateful for the partnership with Food Forward, which supports the foundation of her work in food justice, and she hopes for further collaboration opportunities in the future.
By Joyce Liu, Food Forward intern