A Chef with a Passion for Volunteering

July 25th, 2018

7.25.18 — We’d like to introduce you to our wonderful Volunteer of the Month for July, Michele! Michele is a volunteer triple threat: Farmers Market Glean Team Leader, Produce Pop-Up Lead, and Community Ambassador. She is passionate about serving her community and always willing to go the extra mile — and, did we mention she bakes a mean cookie? Thanks for everything Michele, we love having you in our Fruit Family!



How did you get started with Food Forward and what drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?  

I found Food Forward while job searching when I moved back here to my hometown last year. I come from a professional cooking and farming background, so I was pursuing work in the local sustainable food movement. Food Forward offers so many ways to reach people with their three food recovery programs that I immediately tried them all, doing backyard harvests, farmers market gleans, and produce pop-up distributions.


What is your favorite part about serving as a Glean Team Leader and volunteer at Produce Pop Ups with Food Forward? 

I love that both programs contribute to an “everybody wins” chain of events. Food that would otherwise have gone to the landfill goes to people in need. Farmers get tax deductions for their donations, and individuals with reduced access to healthy, fresh produce receive this nourishment through established receiving agencies and through direct distribution in their communities.

And when we do get to interact directly with the consumers at the produce pop-ups, I LOVE hearing about what people are planning to cook with their bounty of ingredients. Maybe it’s because I am chef, but it’s truly something special to witness families comparing recipe ideas, like how they stew their collard greens or what kinds of salsas they’re going to make with hot peppers.


What are some surprising things you have learned from volunteering?

I didn’t know about the Good Samaritan Act, a federal law enabling nonprofits to receive food donations in good faith without legal liability.


Are there any particularly powerful volunteering moments you’d like to share?

One of my favorite moments was last Friday in Inglewood, when one woman was so excited about her produce haul that she ran into the parking lot, put down her box, and peeled open one of these specialty bananas we were giving out. She was just so happy to taste it and extol its virtues to me!


What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?

I work as a freelance food stylist. I also enjoy being outside (especially in my hometown), hiking, games, family, friends, animals, cooking, gardening, traveling, and eating.


Any words of wisdom you live by?

I try to be present and grateful always. Sometimes it’s very hard, but volunteering helps!


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Summer Fruit Tree Care 101

July 10th, 2018

7.10.18 — Longer days and hotter temperatures means fruit trees are in their active growing season. What are our fruit trees doing during the active growing season in a physiological sense? What do they need? Joanna Glovinsky, founder of LA’s Fruitstitute, a fruit tree care and education service for backyard growers, explains the Hows and Whys of summer fruit tree care.


Here at Fruitstitute our aim is to teach backyard growers how to understand their fruit trees or, as we put it, how to read your tree. Our approach is to take the science of fruit tree care out of the orchard and make it accessible to everyone who’s interested in growing great fruit in Southern California. Now that summer is here, the time is ripe to talk about how to ensure a sweet summer harvest.



To put it simply, the long days of summer mean your tree’s energy intake and output are at the highest. This is because increased daylight boosts photosynthesis, the process through which leaves convert energy from the sun into carbohydrates, which kicks off the metabolic processes of plants. (Remember that high school science class?) I’ll break this down even further so you can get the full picture.

The conversation starts with stomata, an outer layer of cells on a leaf responsible for photosynthesis. These cells are like millions of little mouths that open to feed during the day and close at night. In general, the more hours the sun hits the leaves on a tree, the more hours stomate stay open. As stomata open, water inside the leaf, which traveled up from the soil, evaporates. This physiological process is called transpiration. The water evaporating from each leaf on a tree creates a suction effect throughout the tree that pulls water and soluble nutrients from the soil up through the roots and into rest of the tree, a process called translocation. The longer the day, the longer the stomata are open, the longer transpiration and translocation occur. One thing worth noting is that stomata close when a tree needs to conserve water. So, on really hot days stomata will not be open as long and the tree does not lose more water than it can handle. Similarly, if a tree is underwatered, the stomata will not open.




Open stomata are also consuming energy from the sun (photosynthesis), which is then converted into carbohydrates, the energy the tree needs to grow and make its various parts. This is a very simplified description of the process called respiration. Chlorophyll, the stuff that makes leaves green, is the secret ingredient here. So, the longer the day, the greater the rate of respiration.

Taking the above into account, we can see that the leaves of a tree – their size, color, access to sunlight – are critical for the tree to carry out these physiological processes that allow for growth. We can also see that for these physiological processes to occur optimally, a tree needs sufficient water and sufficient soil nutrients.



Let’s put these pieces together and a picture of what a healthy fruit tree looks like in the summer should become clear.

A healthy tree has:

-A healthy canopy of foliage. Not too dense but not too thin, green in color throughout and leaves that are generally clean of debris and grime
-Proper irrigation
-Good soil fertility

If any or all of these three things are off, the health, rate of growth and fruit bearing capacity of the tree is compromised. Moreover, the greater the degree to which any of these three things are off, the greater the tree’s health is compromised. That’s because without the right amount of photosynthesis, water and nutrients, your tree cannot properly produce or budget its resources. The result of which will ultimately lead to a sad tree with sad fruit.

For deciduous trees, those that lose their leaves and go dormant in winter, summer is particularly important. All the energy they create in summer is then stored during winter and used to create next year’s growth. Should the tree not produce enough leaves for example, or should these leaves be lacking in chlorophyll year after year after year, the tree will eventually fail (i.e. die).





What does all this mean in terms of summer tree care? First, it implies that you should make sure your trees are being properly watered. Second, you need to consider your soil fertility. If you didn’t do it in the spring, make sure you apply your growing season soil amendments – compost/fertilizer and woody mulch – as soon as you can this summer season. If you see discoloration in leaves, you likely have a nutrition deficiency and should amend your soil.

That takes care of our feeding our roots. But what about our leaves? To answer that question, we first need to understand what your tree is growing in the summer. This is the same as saying, how does a tree allocate its energy resources in summer.

In summer, your tree allocates most of its chemical energy toward shoot and fruit growth. Root growth is reduced as a result, which is partly why summer is not the best season to plant a tree. New shoots are developing and as they do, they’re growing the flower buds for next season. For flower buds to form, leaves on these shoots need to photosynthesize sufficient amounts of chemical energy to make the stuff that forms flower buds. These new shoots have also added a new layer of foliage to your canopy that may be crowding or shading other branches. Too much shade and/or crowding means fruit on the effected branches cannot ripen as it should and the leaves cannot photosynthesize as they should. What do you do? The third component of summer tree care is summer pruning.

Summer pruning is all about optimizing light penetration throughout your canopy. When pruning your fruit tree, thin branches that have grown too tall and are shading/crowding the canopy and clean out all dead wood and debris. Because temperatures are hotter, bug populations are more prolific, so you don’t want to create too many wounds for bugs to enter with your pruning cuts. Summer pruning should remove only what is necessary. Similarly, don’t remove any bigger branches in the summer either. Doing so invites bugs and diseases. You could also wash down your canopy with water if you notice extra grime built up on the leaves, which hosts bugs. As always, know how to make proper pruning cuts before garnishing your blades.




fruit-thinningFinally, to the fruit, the other thing your tree is allocating its energy toward growing in summer. Picture a skinny branch overloaded with fruit. If you leave all that fruit on that branch, the fruit may ripen but that branch only has so much energy to give to each fruit. However, if you were to thin some of that fruit, and leave one fruit per every few inches or so, depending on the size of the branch, that branch has that much more energy to allocate to each one of those fruit. Accordingly, the fourth and sweetest component to summer fruit tree care is fruit thinning. Fruit thinning not only makes your fruit tastier it’s also so important for the health of young trees, overbearing trees and for any branch being weighed down by the weight of its fruit. Wouldn’t you rather have a few superior fruits than a lot of inferior ones? You gotta thin it to win it.

By Joanna Glovinsky
Founder, Fruitstitute


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Produce of the Month: Lychee!

July 2nd, 2018

Lychee Love

7.2.18–What are these scaly little red fruit? Only one of the most deliciously clear, sweet, and juicy fruit out there! Read on to learn more.


Background + History

Lychees are native to the southern provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in China, where they have been cultivated since at least 1059 AD. Guangdong, in particular, continues to have prolific lychee production with fruit grown throughout the province.

The fruit is a member of the soapberry family, of which it is the only member, and thrives in tropical climates with high summer heat, rainfall, and humidity. Lychee are in season primarily in May and June. China remains the main producer of the fruit, though it is also widely grown throughout Southeast Asia and India, with more recent production in Brazil, Australia, the United States, the Caribbean, and South Africa.



Consumption + Dangers

Fresh lychee are consumed by peeling back the skin to reveal a translucent, fleshy fruit that is white or pinkish. The texture of the flesh can best be compared to a grape, though the sweetness is incomparable. Though lychee can be found in a growing number of grocery stores throughout the United States, it can be most easily obtained in canned form.

In traditional Chinese medicine, lychee is considered a “warm” element that helps to nourish the blood and warm the body and is used to improve digestive systems and bad appetite. However, it is also thought to put the eater at increased risk of ulcers and acne.

Overconsumption of lychees can be toxic and fatal. Naturally occurring toxins found in lychees, especially unripe lychees, can lead to hypoglycemia that causes fever, convulsions, and seizures.

Don’t let this scare you off though! When eaten in moderation, lychees are a deliciously sweet treat.



Lychee and Lime Sorbet (adapted from BBC Good Food)

If you can’t find any fresh lychees, try this recipe using canned lychees for a refreshing summer treat!


– 3 14oz cans lychees in syrup
– 1/3 cup of caster sugar
– egg white
– zest from 2 limes, juice from 1 lime


1. Drain the syrup from two cans of lychees into a small pan. Add the sugar and dissolve over a gentle heat. Bring to the boil for 1 min.

2. Blitz the drained lychees in a food processor until very finely chopped. Pour in the lime juice and syrup with the blade still whirring – don’t worry if the mix isn’t perfectly smooth at this point. Tip into a 1-liter container and freeze for at least 6 hrs until solid.

3. Break up the frozen mix, then return to the bowl of the processor. Tip in the egg white and whizz until thick, pale and smooth. Add zest from 1 lime. Return to the container and freeze again, ideally overnight. Serve in scoops with remaining lychees scattered with a remaining zest.


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Ventura County Essay Content for Students

June 28th, 2018


Food Forward is a non-profit organization that recovers fresh produce from backyards, orchards, farmers markets and wholesale distributors that would otherwise go to waste. All of those healthy fruits and vegetables are donated to local hunger relief and community support organizations.

If you are a student in Ventura County in grades K-12, we want to hear from you about some very important issues:

What does food justice mean to you?


How can we reduce food waste?


Your ideas about these subjects could win you a ticket to the Ventura County Fair where you will present your winning essay and a feature on Food Forward’s online blog!

Research the topics of food justice, food waste and food insecurity in our region and provide ideas on how to increase everyone’s access to fresh, abundant, wholesome produce grown in Ventura County. The essay should be approximately 300 words.

Submissions are due by July 20, 2018 and should be sent to jill@foodforward.org.



When is my essay due?

Please email essays to jill@foodforward.org by July 20th, 2018.


Is there an age limit?

This contest is for students in Ventura County in grades K-12.


Who do I contact with questions?

Email jill@foodforward.org


I don’t know about food justice, what should I do?

Research it! You can do a search on Google by typing, “food justice, food waste, where is my food grown, etc.” You can also visit foodforward.org and read our blog.


Is there a fee to enter?

No. It’s free to enter.


Tell me more about the presentation at the Fair.

The top 3 entries will receive free Ventura County Fair tickets (one day entry for one student only for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place). For those who wish to present their essay at the Fair, they will arrange the day and time (usually a Saturday afternoon) to do so on the stage in the Ag Building with the essay contest organizers.


My family wants to come watch me present, do they get in free?

Unfortunately we can only provide free entry tickets to the top 3 essays contest winners. Your family members may purchase tickets to the fair by visiting this page.

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Supporting Senior Wellness With Nutritious Produce

June 26th, 2018

6.26.18 — This month, we’d like to highlight one of our receiving agencies. EngAGE is a Food Forward partner supporting the art of active aging. Read on to learn more!



EngAGE provides arts, wellness, learning, community building, and intergenerational programs to 31 affordable senior and multi-generational communities through their Southern California branch. They support senior wellness through fun physical activities like dance and water aerobics, on-site vegetable gardens in senior communities, and classes on healthy cooking and nutrition.




Consistent access to nutritious food is key to improving wellness for seniors. In the United States, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, and 1 in 12 face food insecurity. To make sure their clients’ nutritional needs are met, EngAGE picks up fresh Food Forward produce every week, recovered from the Brentwood Farmers Market. Since 2016, Food Forward has donated over 42,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to help feed seniors and their families.




Megan Hocking, Programs Director at EngAGE, says, “Residents at our EngAGE properties are thrilled each week to receive their fresh produce from Food Forward. The resources from Food forward provide grocery distribution, nutrition and culinary education to families, seniors, and their dependents. EngAGE’s food program vastly improves the quality of life for low-income seniors and GAP (Grandparents as Parents) residences, many of whom do not have access to healthy, fresh produce.”

To learn more about EngAGE and their impact on senior populations, please visit https://engagedaging.org/


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Inspiring Others to Volunteer

June 20th, 2018

6.20.18 — Say hello to our Volunteer of the Month for June, Ben Tenn! Ben is a long-time Community Ambassador who represents Food Forward at community events across the San Fernando Valley, but specifically in his own neighborhood of Northridge. Huge thanks to Ben for inspiring so many people to get involved with our work!



How did you get started with Food Forward and what drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?   

I was looking for a charity where I could both find a good cause and be helpful.  I learned about FF through some media / PR and contacted the office. I also care about feeding those in need without our rich society.  That seems like a basic we all should support.


What is your favorite part about serving as a Community Ambassador with Food Forward?   

I am very comfortable in group settings and find I can encourage students, parents and families to consider volunteering which means my hours of volunteering can generate many more hours from many others – a real joy to be productive.


What are some surprising things you have learned from volunteering?   

No surprise but nearly everyone is impressed with what FF does and thanks us for doing it.  People are happy and eager to help if schedules allow.  We are well received and respected for our work.

“…My hours of volunteering can generate many more hours from many others – a real joy to be productive.”

Are there any particularly powerful volunteering moments you’d like to share?    

Families love to volunteer and sign up both as the parents want to contribute to our society and to get their kids involved too.  And college students totally understand our mission and are eager to get involved, particularly at CSUN and the big pick on campus.


What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?     

We enjoy traveling both domestically and internationally, to learn about what is happening elsewhere and the history behind it.  I also enjoy reading history and biographies and continue to consult to local small businesses.


Any words of wisdom you live by?    

I along with many others are in or near retirement, so staying involved is important.  FF is a great example of a wonderful organization due to the mission and the excellent management of the program by staff at all levels.  Congrats to Rick and the entire team.



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Food Forward’s kNOw Waste Program

June 6th, 2018

Do You know waste?

6.6.18 — Since 2016, Food Forward has brought its kNOw Waste program to eight 5th grade classes in the Los Angeles area. In the spring of 2018, educator Martha Hall brought these lessons on food waste to one elementary school, and writes about her experience below. 

It’s hard to imagine all that a 10 year old’s brain absorbs in the buzz of the 21st century. No matter where you look or step, screens of every shape and size are blaring news updates, celebrity gossip and special reports about overwhelming natural and people-induced disasters. The world can seem a noisy, chaotic and scary place, and especially so to a 5th grader.

How better to help them navigate our unstable terrain than to gift them with information, stories of hope and possibility, and the steps to take action? Thankfully, Food Forward’s kNOw Waste program offers just that. I feel fortunate that as an educator with Food Forward, I had the opportunity to join three fifth grade classes at Grand View Elementary School in West Los Angeles in March and April of this year. Our weekly discussions about the realities and complexities of food waste provided a space to grapple with big issues as well as the time to devise and propose some possible solutions. Information is power, and by the end of the six-week unit, these 5th grade students indeed seemed enthusiastically empowered.



Food Forward’s Harvest and Education Manager Sam Teslik teaches a class about food waste.

The kNOw Waste curriculum covers everything from the ways food is wasted at home and in school, to how and why food is often wasted in the production cycle – in the field, in the distribution process, at the retail level of stores, restaurants, farmers markets, etc. Students learned new concepts, went over related vocabulary words, reflected out loud and in writing on the ideas introduced, and shared their ideas in pairs and to the class. At the end of the six weeks, the students broke into groups, prepared their own food waste and food justice focused Public Service Announcement (PSA) and presented it to their peers.



A student poster urges others to prevent food waste by donating uneaten food.

While all of the themes and topics engaged the kids, the one unit that stood out above the rest to me was our Week 4 conversation about food insecurity and food justice. The kids instinctively grasped the inequities of food distribution, the challenges of food access for low income individuals and families living in “food deserts,” as well as the harsh reality that vast quantities of food go to waste at all stages of the growing, harvesting, shipping and selling process while so many people, including our own friends and neighbors, go hungry. No heavy hitting needed on our part. They got it.

At the close of that particular class, one of the fifth grade teachers challenged her students. “This is a call to action,” she said to a room of 27 wide-eyed, focused and concerned kids. “You can help. You can make a difference.” And with their newly raised consciousness and her encouraging charge, I knew they could, and that they would.


img_7697After our final class, when most of the students had already filed out the door to recess, one student approached me, gave me a hug and handed me a handmade card. It read: “I (heart) Food Forward. Thank You,” and below, the motto, “Harvest Food, Fight Hunger, Build Community.” It’s clear that these 5th graders are still part kid, giggly and dreamy, yet also emerging as young adults with astute awareness and intelligence. What better message could we have left them with? They now “kNOw” about the issues of food waste & food justice in their community, and they’re determined to do something about it.

Interested in bringing kNOw Waste to your school? We are currently taking applications from schools interested in bringing Food Forward’s kNOw Waste program to their 5th grade during the Spring of 2019. If you are a teacher or administrator interested in applying please fill out our school interest form.

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Produce of the Month

June 1st, 2018

Produce of the Month: Endives!

6.1.18–This month, we want to highlight a perplexing and fascinating vegetable–the endive. With its many varieties, including the vampire-like Belgian endive, this vegetable deserves a closer look.


Background + History

There are three main varieties of endive, each with their own distinct look and taste. Belgian endives, also known as witloof (white leaf in Dutch), is a pale, bullet-shaped vegetable with tightly packed leaves and a bitter taste. Curly endive, which is often mistaken for chicory in the U.S., grows in loose heads with curly, lacey outer leaves. Escarole is of the same genus and species as curly endive but has broad green leaves and is less bitter than the other two. Endives and chicory are often mistaken

Historically, endives were grown in large quantities in Western Europe for their roots, which were dried and used to make a dark, bitter drink similar to coffee. The story goes that sometime between the mid and late 1800s, a Belgian farmer headed off to war, leaving his crop of harvested chicory roots in a cellar. He returned to find that these roots had sprouted heads of blanched, yellowish-white leaves with a mild flavor. And thus the Belgian Endive was born.

Belgian Endive

If you’re looking for a field full of these pale yellow beauties, you’ll have to look again. The growing cycle of a Belgian endive is a strange and laborious one that begins out in the field like any normal vegetables, but with a twist. Seeds are planted in the spring and harvested in the autumn when the plants reach maturity. With the roots pulled out of the soil, the tops are trimmed off, and the roots are placed in a warm, dark space for the second period of growth. Grown in complete darkness, these endives grow from the roots as a tight bunch with a spooky, pale yellow look and a mild bitterness. Unlike vampires, these little guys are highly prized for their look and taste, and even referred to as white gold.



Endive Salad with Walnuts, Chopped Pear, and Blue Cheese
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Pre times: 10 minutes
Yields 2 to 3 servings

3 Endive heads, sliced first lengthwise, then crosswise in 1/2-inch slices
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese
1 bartlett pear, cored and chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 teaspoons cider vinegar (balsamic is good too)
Sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the chopped endive in a large bowl. Add the walnuts, crumbled gorgonzola, and chopped pears. Toss to combine. Drizzle olive over the salad. Drizzle cider vinegar over the salad. Toss to combine. Season to taste with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Serve immediately.


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Ventura Branch Interns Shine Bright

May 28th, 2018

When you are enthusiastic about what you do, you feel this positive energy. It’s very simple. ~Paulo Coelho


In the day to day busyness of our work, the special moments of inspiration and joy propel us toward something even greater than we could have first intended. This is the case with starting an internship program in Ventura. At first glance, this might seem like nothing out of the ordinary but, in contrast, the effort and staff resources that go into providing a meaningful experience for interns, while offering some relief to the staff, requires a certain finesse and luck. This spring, the Ventura Branch of Food Forward took on a monumental task of hosting three interns while also onboarding our newest staff member, Emily Redfield.

Monica came to us as an intern working on a certificate in Social Media Marketing, armed with creative ideas and boundless enthusiasm. Data entry, homeowner follow up, and logistics became her focus as she learned how we do what we do, and then her creativity took over as she brainstormed social media strategies to increase volunteer engagement. “Building community” is her favorite part of the job, because getting to connect with property owners, volunteers, and partner agencies is what keeps this cycle going, and reminds us that we are all in this together. The ability to do more and help others inspires her to pursue her educational and professional goals. She will be graduating from the Women’s Economic Ventures SET Course on May 30, 2018 and will be giving the commencement speech on behalf of her class.

Elise Doan is graduating this May from Pepperdine University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration and a Minor in Sustainability. However, previous to Pepperdine University, Elise attended De Anza College where she took her first class in Environmental Science and became passionate about changing the way we use Earth’s natural resources. While at community college, Elise volunteered at a local non-profit, Veggielution, and found her interest in food justice. Elise has a strong understanding of the relevance of food recovery in environmental protection and hopes to take some time off to travel and volunteer abroad in the future as well as eventually go back to school to pursue a masters in Sustainable Management. Elise is going to make a big difference in the world with her strength, warmth, and determination!

Leslie Lopez graduates this June from California State University Channel Islands with a degree in nutrition and Latin studies.  She was instrumental in updating our partner agency contact list and conducting site visits. She hopes to also take some time off before returning to pursue a masters of public health with the intent to work for an organization like Sembrando Salud.  She helped us bring fresh food to the university pantry, opening the door to work with the CSUCI to increase access to fresh, locally-sourced food.

We were so grateful to get to know these lovely women and look forward to seeing great things from them in the future.

— Jill Santos, Ventura County Branch Manager

For current internship positions, please visit foodforward.org/internships

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Happiest When She is Helping Others

May 23rd, 2018

5/21/18– Our volunteer of the month for May is Monica Gray! Hailing from Ventura, Monica has quickly become involved in all manner of Food Forward programs as a farmers market lead, a backyard harvest pick leader, and community ambassador!


Monica, right pictured with Jill Santos, Ventura County Branch Manager, left, at a community outreach event.


So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?  

I needed to do an internship for my certificate in Social Media Marketing, and I wanted to work with Food Forward after I got the card at the fair and checked out the website.

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?

Wanting to help reduce more food waste and feed hungry people, and to meet others passionate about the same things.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?

The connections I have made with other people are a huge bonus on top of feeling great about the work I am doing.

“Healthy food heals people,
and makes them feel cared for.”

How would you describe the volunteer experience in the office? In the field?

In the office, there are a lot of details to remember, data to enter, and a lot of picks to coordinate! At events, it’s nice to see people signing up to volunteer, and helping with the large distribution events is fun, too.

What was your first volunteer day like?

The scope of what Food Forward does is huge, and I had no idea how food redistribution is done, so there was a lot to learn. My first day involved a lot of note taking, and trying to get my bearings.

What have you learned from volunteering?

I have learned that my heart will always be happiest when I am helping others, and doing things that will help our Earth.

Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share?

When we helped distribute produce in front of ReStore, a resident of a halfway house stopped and got some and expressed gratitude because eating healthier was helping him stay sober. That is the kind of thing that inspires me, and makes me grateful to be a part of Food Forward. Healthy food heals people, and makes them feel cared for.

Any words of wisdom you live by?

No matter how hard it can be, and how intense the pain and struggle is, life is beautiful.


Thanks, Monica!


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