Agency Spotlight: SBCC Thrive

October 6th, 2020

Today, we’re spotlighting SBCC Thrive LA, an organization that has empowered Angelenos to make positive change in their community for the past 47 years.

Founded in 1973, SBCC (short for Strength Based Community Change) is built on the idea that every person has something unique they can contribute to help build a more equal and just society. Among SBCC Thrive’s initiatives are their children’s education program, economic initiatives program, and community organizing work.


SBCC Thrive creates access to healthy foods through community gardens and free distributions of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

SBCC Thrive works throughout LA County and has two locations in Watts and Wilmington, where it can be difficult to find fresh produce, and fruits and vegetables are often sold at an unaffordable price range. To support residents who wanted to grow their own food, SBCC developed a robust gardening and composting program. They also began twice-monthly food distributions at the iHeart Wilmington Community Garden, where they felt it was important to provide more than just canned foods. So, Octavio Ramirez, a certified Master Gardener and SBCC’s Director of Community Gardens, reached out to Food Forward in 2019. SBCC soon began picking up fresh fruits and vegetables gleaned from the Encino Farmers Market.


Octavio Ramirez, SBCC’s Director of Community Gardens, picks up pallets of fruits and vegetables at the Produce Pit Stop for a community distribution. 

Food Forward maintains a high standard for the quality of produce that is donated to our partners, which means that sometimes we can’t donate certain fruits or veggies. Instead of throwing this produce away, Food Forward works with local composters to prevent it from ending up in a landfill—including SBCC Thrive, who turn our inedible fruits and veggies into rich compost for their community gardens.

Octavio says that SBCC’s partnership with Food Forward is beneficial “Not only because we get produce for our participants, but also because [previously] I didn’t have enough green material for the amount of compost I wanted to make. It’s the perfect mutually beneficial relationship.”


Our partnership with SBCC Thrive also includes composting—they help us recycle any food we can’t donate, and we help them create rich soil for their gardens! 

Since the pandemic, SBCC has been quick to shift much of their programming to be virtual. Every day they live-stream a fitness or yoga class, and they have continued their preschool education classes through Facebook Live. SBCC also host regular Know Your Rights workshops, and have even hosted online video game tournaments. They have also adpated in-person programs like their community gardens to be safe. A new container gardening challenge was started and a companion workshop series, made by Octavio, is on Youtube. We’re incredibly proud to partner with this innovative organization during a particularly challenging time!

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Doing good for others in his spare time

August 28th, 2020

Meet our Ventura County Volunteer of the Quarter, and Volunteer of the Month, Eric S! Eric is a Volunteer Support Driver in Ventura County, and helps us keep everything running smoothly. Eric restocks our storage for market gleans and backyard picks and transports produce to hunger relief agencies that do not have the capacity to pick-up, providing vital support to those organizations. He’s been such a huge help and we’re lucky to have him on the team. 


So tell me, what drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
I feel very strongly about community support and mutual aid, and that’s what drove me to seek out an organization like Food Forward.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I have a very demanding job so I don’t get a whole lot of free time. I get out on my mountain bike for exercise, and teach scuba diving and try to find time to keep up with biological research (my personal calling) when I can.



What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?
I’m happy to be able to do something to help support the community.

How would you describe the volunteer experience as a Volunteer Support Driver?
Food Forward provides a perfect opportunity to do some good for others with what time I have left to give.

Anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you so much for the work you do and for giving me the opportunity to be a small part of it!



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The rising tide brings in all ships

July 24th, 2020

Nikole and her husband, Jake, started volunteering with Food Forward in early 2020. Shortly after the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, Nikole finished her Pick Leader training and has since become one of our most active Pick Leaders. Since early April, Nikole and Jake have led 9 harvest events and donated more than 1,900 lbs of fruit to local hunger relief organizations! They are hard-working, committed to food justice, and an awesome picking team. We are grateful for their support and happy to have them on our team! 


So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?  
We discovered Food Forward at an information booth at the Van Nuys Arbor Day celebration at the Van Nuys recreation center, we were looking for ways to get more involved in our community and to learn about sustainability efforts in our neighborhood. Food Forward was a perfect fit for us on both accounts.

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
We love that Food Forward meets a need in the community by getting fresh, healthy produce for those who don’t normally have access—while at the same time, fighting food waste!

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
Jake is a professional musician, artist, and producer (@jakeknoxmusic) and Nikole is a music supervisor for TV and Film as well as a musician and artist (@JoyIncentive).



What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward? 
We love having a reason to be outside for an hour or two and getting a close look at how fruit grows and where our fruit comes from. Though community interaction is somewhat limited during the pandemic, we still love the feeling of connecting with a neighbor who is letting you into their space, to pick their food to feed another member of the community that needs it. This symbiosis among three distinct groups in the community is invaluable.

How would you describe the volunteer experience at a harvest?
This is the most fulfilling volunteer experience that either of us have ever had. Not only does it feel good to get out into the community and do some good, but at the end of the day you have a quantifiable accomplishment, for example we’ve only been doing solo harvests for a few months and already the two of us have saved over 1,800 lbs of produce from the landfill and donated it to the food insecure—nothing can beat that feeling.

What was your first volunteer day at a harvest like?
Our first harvest was at a private residence with about 8 fruit trees and around 10 volunteers. We loved everyone we met that day and were able to take a few oranges and grapefruits that couldn’t be donated home with us. We loved it so much that we signed up to train and become harvest leaders that night.



What have you learned from volunteering?
Lots of fun fruit facts! Citrus doesn’t continue to ripen off the tree – so don’t pick green fruit. Grapefruit grows in clusters like grapes, which is how it got its name. Lemons are way easier to pick than Kumquats. Who knew?!

Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share?
We are always inspired by the enthusiasm of the people we meet, everyone is always so excited to be donating their fruit!

Any words of wisdom you live by?
We like to think that the rising tide brings in all the ships, when you’re doing your best you’re empowering those around you to do the same. Also – keep washing your hands and don’t touch your face!

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No one goes hungry

June 30th, 2020

Meet our Volunteer of the Month, Gary Sarcione! Gary is a dedicated Glean Team Leader at the Ventura Saturday Farmers Market. He’s been volunteering several times a month since 2016 and has been a huge help at the market! Read more about Gary and what inspires him to volunteer below. 


Gary moved to Ventura County four years ago and quickly got involved with Food Forward and began giving back to his community!

So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?
My wife Dina and I had just moved to the Ventura area four years ago. While I looked for a job I needed something to make me feel productive in between searching and job interviews, so I looked around for a volunteer opportunity. I found Food Forward online and it seemed like something I’d enjoy doing while giving back at the same time.

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
I think how well it was organized and that the food went so quickly from the farmers to those in need. Kind of an instant gratification thing, I guess!

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I’ve just recently started a new career in film and electronic media, so I love being in production and practicing photography. I also enjoy spending time with my wife Dina and our cat Bast. Otherwise, I love exploring SoCal on my motorcycle.


Gary enjoys exploring Southern California on his motorcycle.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?
There’s a special feeling I get working the Ventura Farmers Market on a Saturday, like I’m a part of something bigger than myself and I’m just showing up to do my part. It’s very cool. I also like talking with the farmers. They are amazing people and I’m glad I’ve gotten to be around them.

How would you describe the volunteer experience at a farmers market glean?
It’s very team-oriented and easy going. You get to help save food from being wasted and get it in the hands of those in need in an uncomplicated way all while being outdoors and engaging with others. And it’s not a huge commitment so I regularly recommend it to people looking for an easy and fun way to volunteer.

What was your first volunteer day at a market like?
Oh, it was so much more than I expected. I remember it was just myself and the Ventura County Branch Manager Ally leading. I remember how nice she and the vendors were and how good it felt getting involved. Plus I was still very new to the area, so I went home feeling that I had made my first friend in California and for the first time felt a part of the community. It was a good day!


Gary regularly leads produce recovery at the Ventura Saturday Farmers Market.

What have you learned from volunteering?
That I always get back from it more than I put into it. Always.

Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share?
One memory that sticks out is approaching one of the farm stands and asking if they needed a box that day.  It was pretty obvious they didn’t but the farmer grabbed the box from me and just started filling it. As he handed it back to me he said “no one goes hungry.” It was a nice moment but I have to say, the overall generosity of the vendors we work with is incredible and inspiring.

Any words of wisdom you live by?
The secret of getting ahead is getting started.


Gary’s motorcycle outfitted with some Food Forward flair!

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Highlighting volunteer heroes in Ventura County

June 11th, 2020

While Food Forward has continued to recover large quantities of fruits and vegetables since the COVID-19 crisis began, our community volunteer events are paused for the time being. However, our trained Volunteer Event Leaders and partners are continuing to support our work in safe and impactful ways.

In the past month, Food Forward Pick Leaders have carried on with backyard harvests in a solo capacity, rather than harvesting in groups. Homeowners are encouraged to pick their own fruit to share with neighbors or donate it to Food Forward. The impact of Do-It-Yourself and solo picks have been tremendous: in April alone, over 46,000 pounds of produce were recovered and donated to 53 different hunger relief agencies in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

Our trained Glean Team Leaders have also begun gleaning again at some Farmers Markets in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, alone or in small groups. In Ventura County, we are now gleaning at four markets weekly, thanks to our dedicated Volunteer Leaders.

Finally, with the help of our partners, we have been operating two Rapid Response Food Hubs in Ventura County to get produce to 25 partner agencies in our communities. All of this cannot be done without our incredible volunteers and partners. In order to thank them, we’re highlighting some of these individuals below!

Carol Gravelle has been an exceptional volunteer for the past nine years with Food Forward. Besides frequent fruit picking, Carol is an expert with our occasional farm gleans here in Ventura County. She also sewed some face masks using Food Forward bandanas and donated them to staff. Thanks, Carol!


Tom Ward has been volunteering with Food Forward for 4 years. He always works hard, and lately, he has been bringing his family to help pick! Thanks, Tom.

John Parmenter was the Zesty Volunteer of the Year for Food Forward in 2019! John is a unique Pick Leader—instead of harvesting fruit trees, he grows and harvest vegetables in many garden plots at the Cornucopia Community Garden in Ventura on a weekly basis. We always love seeing the bounty of kale, squash, spinach, mint, and more that John is growing. Thanks, John!


Amy Hagins and her family are somewhat new to Food Forward, but they have really jumped in to help pick the last few months. Amy leads a harvest almost every week. Thanks, Amy!


Jodie Francoeur is our partner at Simi at the Garden, the local community garden which helps us put on the Simi Valley Produce Pick-Up. Jodie drives down to our Produce Pit Stop near Downtown LA on a weekly basis with her truck, trailer, and husband, Chris, to pick up an additional 5 pallets of fruits and vegetables that are distributed at this event. Thanks to her support, we’ve gone from serving 100-150 families per month to over 300 families each week! Thank you, Jodie!


Food Forward will always be a volunteer-driven organization. A special thanks to all our volunteers and partners, as we cannot recover the amount of produce that we recover and donate without them. Thank you for your support and dedication!

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Black Lives Matter

June 6th, 2020

In light of last couple of week’s tragic events, we at Food Forward felt an urgent need to reach out to our community at large to raise our voice in unity.⁠⠀
We vehemently condemn the four police officers who murdered George Floyd, and the inexcusable approach by Minneapolis officials investigating them. Moreso, we mourn the countless Black lives that have also been unjustly and brutally stolen on American soil, not just this past week, but dating all the way back to 1619.⁠⠀
Food Forward shares the outrage and stands in solidarity with our Black colleagues, partners, volunteers, event participants, financial supporters, and all marginalized communities and people of color, in the fight against racism, injustice, and violence in every form.⁠⠀
Food Forward’s mission is wrapped around the action of sharing fresh, free food so every human being in our community can thrive – and we intend to show our outrage, conviction, and yes sadness, through our re-doubled commitment to fulfilling that mission. We are also committed to working internally and externally to support and amplify anti-racist efforts in our society – something essential if our mission is to succeed.⁠⠀
What started in the streets of Minneapolis has now spread to every single state in our nation. The protests we are witnessing give a voice to the many Black lives cut short by rampant, unchecked, institutionalized police violence.⁠⠀
In this time, as we demand justice, we ask you to dig deep under the outrage, and find the abundance of love, of unity, of empathy within. And please go out and direct that love, that unity, that empathy towards those suffering in our community, in any way you can.⁠⠀
Lastly, though we have a VITAL election happening in 6 months, elections can only do so much. We cannot look to others to make this right but, rather, WE MUST all take a good long hard look in the mirror and do better ourselves.⁠⠀


Things we are reading and listening to right now:

List of Black-owned food businesses in LA

Groups supporting food and land justice for Black Americans

1619 Podcast by Nikole Hannah Jones from the New York Times

26 ways to be in the struggle beyond the streets

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Helping make the world go round

May 29th, 2020

Meet our Volunteer of the Month, Mary MacVean! Mary is a regular at our Produce Pick-Up in Watts, in partnership with the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. Mary is training to become a Produce Pick-Up Lead to support staff at the distributions. Beyond her help at the Watts Produce Pick-Up, Mary is a member of Food Forward’s Kitchen Cabinet and Spring Melt Auction Committee. We’re so grateful for all the different ways she puts her talents and passion to use in support of our work!



So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?
I met Rick early in the life of Food Forward. I had heard about what he had just started. I was a reporter for the LA Times then and wrote a story about the project. We liked each other and stayed in touch.

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
What I have always loved is the simplicity and easy logic.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
At the moment, I am in my house unless I am taking a run or walking my dog. But otherwise, I am a writer. And I spend a fair amount of time in the community. I also am extraordinarily lucky to have a remarkable assortment of friends, and I feel strongly about nurturing those relationships.


Mary invited Food Forward, along with other local food waste organizations, to a screening and discussion of Wasted: The Story of Food Waste.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?
I like that I can have different roles: the Kitchen Cabinet, the auction committee, and the Watts Produce Pick-Up.

How would you describe the volunteer experience at a produce pick-up?
I’ve been studying to be a Lead at the Watts Produce Pick-Up. It’s serious work, as we sort through the donated food and find the best way to set up an appealing market. Everyone is working hard. When the community comes to shop and sees the bounty, that’s the fun part. People often are happily surprised when they ask how many they can take of an item and are told, “As many as you can use.”

What have you learned from volunteering?
I grew up in a home where volunteering was just part of what one did. It could be private and quiet work for a neighbor. Or part of a bigger organization. So honestly, until very recently I thought it was just what helped make the world go around. Lately, I have become very unenamored with the way the extremely wealthy—the top fraction of a percent, the famous ones—are setting priorities for what social ills are addressed and how, for what public education should look like and many more. I worry the system is deeply broken.

Any words of wisdom you live by?
That changes from time to time. I do keep a list on my bathroom mirror that offers advice for each day of the week. For example, Friday is about forgiveness—something I can always use a little help to achieve.


Mary sporting her Food Forward bandana face mask! 
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Keeping Ventura County nourished during COVID-19

May 22nd, 2020

COVID-19 has created new challenges for our partners, who are seeing more folks seeking food assistance than ever before. Thanks to our partners Totally Local VC, Food Forward established the Ventura Rapid Response Hub, part of our emergency response to the increased need caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ventura County Branch Manager Ally Gialketsis (left) and Local Love deliver several pallets of fruits and vegetables to the Santa Paula Unified School District. 


The Ventura Rapid Response Hub is an emergency produce distribution hub in partnership with Totally Local VC’s Local Love Project (Local Love). Local Love activates and organizes community members to provide immediate aid in the aftermath of a disaster affecting Ventura County. It started in response to the devastation caused by the Thomas Fire in 2017 and has continued to support Ventura County through the COVID-19 crisis. Food Forward’s Ventura Branch has partnered with Local Love to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to agencies that are feeding families in Ventura County.

Many food assistance agencies have made adjustments or temporarily suspended services due to COVID-19. For organizations that are still open, the increase in demand has been huge—some report three or four times their typical amount of clients at food distributions.


Cilantro, kale, cantaloupe, raspberries, and more were given to Ventura residents at a recent food distribution.


Food Forward launched five new “Rapid Response Hubs” in April to ensure communities across Los Angeles and Ventura counties have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. These hubs are a direct response to the increased need in neighborhoods most affected by the loss of services. Having a reliable source of free, high-quality fruits and vegetables can help ease the burden of new financial stressors for many throughout Southern California. At each location, a truckload of recovered produce is quickly distributed to multiple agency partners, who in turn distribute this food to their clients.

One agency receiving produce from the Ventura Rapid Response Hub is Turning Point Foundation. Among other services, Turning Point Foundation provides individuals experiencing homelessness and/or living with mental illness with basic needs like food and clothing. Since the pandemic’s onset, procuring enough food for their clients has been difficult. Suki Sir at Turning Point Foundation says “Food Forward is our savior! Without the work Food Forward is doing to get us produce through the hub, my residents would be in a really bad place with food insecurity.”


A family poses with fruits and vegetables at a distribution in Ventura County. 


The Ventura Rapid Response Hub is one of the ways we are supporting food access in Ventura County. To learn more about our response to COVID-19, click here.



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We’re B-A-N-A-N-A-S for this fruit! 

May 6th, 2020

It’s yellow, long, and sweet. We eat it raw, blend it, and bake it. Commonplace and yet so versatile, bananas are quite an interesting fruit. Here at Food Forward, we’ve been seeing more bananas than usual at the Produce Pit Stop, so we thought we’d peel back the layers and find out more about them! 
Close up photo of bananas


Where bananas grow

Bananas grow in clusters on banana trees, and grow best in tropical climates, where it’s hot and humid. Bananas are grown in more than 150 countries, but most bananas are grown in Asia, including in India, China, and the Philippines, and Central and South American countries such as Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia. The banana plant is sometimes grown to provide shade for other crops, or as ornamental decoration.


Banana nutrition facts

Bananas are a great source of several important vitamins and nutrients, including potassium, which supports cardiovascular health and helps the body flush out excess sodium. They also contain Vitamins B6 and C, Magnesium, and Fiber.  Besides the many ways to eat bananas, their peels also have some interesting uses—so don’t toss them out right away! When rubbed on a scrape or mosquito bite, the inside of banana peels can help soothe the skin. Create homemade plant fertilizer by soaking banana peels for several days in water, and then pouring the water on your plants. And, you can even rub the inside of a banana peel on a scratched DVD or CD to stop it from skipping!


Farmer harvests bananas from tree

Bananas are grown and harvested in many countries in South America and Asia. 

Banana varieties around the world

Today, the Cavendish banana is the most exported variety and is of huge economic importance to many countries—but other varieties often play a larger role in countries’ food cultures. Plantains are one variety Americans may be familiar with—the firmer, starchier banana can be used for different dishes depending on their ripeness. Plantains are primarily used for cooking a wide variety of dishes, rather than eaten raw or used for desserts. They are eaten in most South American countries, and are especially important in Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean cuisines. Plantains are also widely grown and consumed in several African countries, including Ghana, Cameroon, Uganda, and Rwanda.


Other regions consume different varieties of the banana plant. In Indonesia, the Pisang Raja, a custardy-tasting banana, is very popular. Red bananas can sometimes be found here in the US—they are grown in South America, Africa, and the Middle East, but are most popular in Central American countries. Blue Java, or ‘Ice Cream’ bananas, are grown in Southeast Asia and South America, and are known for their blue skin, creamy texture, and vanilla flavor. The Burro banana is primarily grown in Mexico and has a lemony flavor when ripe.


Yellow, red, and green bananas
The Red Banana, pictured here, is a smaller fruit known for its slight raspberry flavor. 


A great way to use up bananas that may be past their prime is to bake banana bread. This delicious dessert is easy to whip up with pantry staples and some overripe bananas.

By Marsha Klein for Bon Appétit 


Yield: Makes one 9-inch loaf


•1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
•1 teaspoon baking soda
•1 teaspoon baking powder
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
•3/4 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
•1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
•1 cup sugar
•2 large eggs
•1 cup mashed ripe bananas
•2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
•1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9x5x2 1/2-inch metal loaf pan. Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine chocolate chips and walnuts in small bowl; add 1 tablespoon flour mixture and toss to coat.
2. Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in mashed bananas, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Beat in flour mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of nut mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter over. Sprinkle with remaining nut mixture. Cover with remaining batter. Run knife through batter in zigzag pattern.
3. Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool.


Sliced banana bread
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A family activity & a way to contribute

April 23rd, 2020

Tom has been volunteering with his 3 adorable kids and lovely wife since February 2018. We met him at an avocado harvest in Somis, and he’s been volunteering regularly ever since! Tom and his family have stepped up in this critical time and have continued to regularly harvest fruit from backyard fruit trees and orchards on their own. Thank you to Tom and his family for all that you do!


Tom at a lemon harvest in Ventura County


So tell me, what drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
At first it was a family activity that we found that we can all do together. My wife, Chrissy, first found out about Food Forward and signed us all up for a bacon avocado pick in Somis in the spring of 2018. It was more enjoyable than I expected. I quickly became a pick leader and haven’t looked back since.


What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I work for the Navy at Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu. I also went back to school to learn how to fly.


What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward? 
Meeting new people and being able contribute to my community.


During the COVID-19 outbreak, Tom has continued to do solo and family harvests of local fruit trees. 


How would you describe the volunteer experience at a backyard harvest?
It’s a good time. I encourage the volunteers to meet and talk to new people while picking.


What have you learned from volunteering?
I have learned that it is easy to contribute to my community.


Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share? 
There are a few that come to mind. We went to pick enormous navel oranges near scenic mountains in Fillmore, but the harvest we’ve done twice was picking grapefruit at a horse ranch in Somis. The first time was late in the afternoon and it was over 100 degrees. My family all participated and over 100 boxes of fruit were harvested. When this property came back up to pick we had to do it again, thankfully it wasn’t nearly as hot the second time. I’ll do that pick every year.


Tom’s kids often help him harvest.
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