Writer, Tash Moore
Westlake is a long way from Oak Park, Michigan. It’s a neighborhood that skirts downtown Los Angeles and has become home to La Bodega. The concept is the brick-and-mortar home base of LaRayia Gaston’s vegan cafe and shop, as well as Lunch on Me. Gaston, originally from New York, founded Lunch on Me, a pop-up that serves the homeless throughout Skid Row, Watts, Venice, Compton, and lately MacArthur Park. Through partnerships and sponsorships with big names like Whole Foods and BuzzFeed, LaRayia–alongside President, Venus–has been able to provide healthy, affordable meals to locals of all stripes.
I was introduced to Lunch on Me through a pop-up in Detroit last winter, right before the polar vortex froze SE Michigan to a virtual standstill. I met Venus, ever enthusiastic, and we spent a toasty morning with other volunteers cooking and preparing full meals to hand out in Cass Park. This summer, I caught back up with Venus, who’s currently organizing another meal in NYC. She explained the concept of the bodega: to provide fantastic organic food at a super-low price point to ensure that longtime residents can continue to thrive in an increasingly gentrified neighborhood cradled between downtown LA and the rest of Los Angeles. All food items available in the shop–whether a shelf staple like beans and grains, or refrigerated goods–are $5 or less, with average prices somewhere around $2, and their offerings are 99% organic. The majority of the food is provided through partnerships. Hot food is also cooked daily and lunches are organized each Monday to pass out to the homeless or undocumented citizens socializing in the nearby park or looking for shelter.
The meals are six days a week, are free of charge for all in need, and are supported by a rotating team of volunteers. They provide about 10,000 meals per month in Los Angeles. The New York City branch is getting off the ground; however, it’s a little challenging as they are starting over from scratch with attracting sponsors out East. The group is also currently fundraising to make some of their projects permanent as well as expand to Hawaii, where much of the indigenous population is being priced out of their own homeland. The fundraisers are up on CrowdRise and a link is included below if you want to help support their expansion.
To read more, check out write ups in the Los Angeles Times (https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2019-09-13/larayias-bodega-dtla-cheap-healthy-vegan/) and New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/26/style/a-bodega-with-kale-and-activism-on-the-menu.html/) as well as their website: www.lunchonme.org