A small ray of light during a turbulent weekend took place at the corner of East 41st Place and Avalon Boulevard in South Los Angeles, when a honking motorcade of graduating kindergartners and parents circling the Kedren Community Health offices came upon a waving Danny Trejo in the hospital’s parking lot.
With help from the Everest Foundation, Trejo’s Tacos set up in the parking lot of the outpatient center for the Department of Psychiatry Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Residency Training Program for Charles Drew University School of Medicine, to hand out 500 free grilled chicken and barbacoa bowls for neighbors and hospital staff. Kedren has aided the underserved community of South Central Los Angeles for more than 50 years and currently is also providing free COVID-19 testing for the area. The Everest Foundation assists medical research in schools of medicine and universities with their Part of the Cure program.
“We’ve been to Cedars and Verdugo Hills, but this one is really important because this is the neighborhood here that everybody talks about, but nobody wants to come here,” Trejo told L.A. Weekly on Friday as he passed out bowls to young and old. “I grew up in a spot like this and I love doing this. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I owe my life to God. I talked to him a couple of days ago and asked him how I’m doing. He said, ‘Keep it up Trejo, you’re almost out of hell, just a few more hospitals’.”
Also on hand for support was the center’s chief medical officer Dr. Rahn Kennedy Bailey, who authored the book At Gunpoint: Firearms Violence From a Psychiatrist’s Perspective.
“We have so many stressors right now that are worsening concerns for those who are already struggling with emotional issues,” Dr. Bailey told L.A. Weekly. “Right now we have police brutality issues, COVID-19 and individuals who are tweeting things that are throwing lighter fuel on the fire with acrimony and animosity. We need people to encourage harmony.”
Trejo, who spends a lot of time downtown on Skid Row and has had his own struggles in the past, says that out of 10 people they help, four are bi-polar and two are autistic — and even if they were given homes they wouldn’t know what to do with them.
“A lot of the homeless have been on the street since Reagan closed the mental health facilities,” Trejo chimed in as he handed out bowls filled to the brim with grilled chicken, Spanish rice, mixed beans, roasted corn, salsa verde and his signature pico de gallo. “We’re talking three generations — they have children going to school who are homeless.”
The giveaway has kept the Trejo empire busy, but business has taken a hit. Pickup and delivery have helped, as well as a deal with Goldbelly. “This (pandemic) has been a real sock in the stomach and in the face, for the restaurant community,” says the Echo Park native and Machete film character.
Dr. Bailey says that the pandemic has been a full court press for Kedren. The outpatient hospital is full, with an increase in inpatients and demand on the system for mental health support. While more people are coming in for care, the center is losing clinicians due to the virus. Seven staff workers are doing the work of the usual 20, which includes psychiatrists, psychologists, nurse practitioners and social workers.
So how do we cope?
“You have to find a base or foundation that works for you,” says the doctor, who was a fellow in forensic psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine from 1994-95.
“For some people that’s family, for some it’s religion, exercising or going for a run. Find somebody you can trust and depend on when you’re overwhelmed. Internally, find something that will give you peace — planting a garden, writing your thoughts down. Because you’re at home, don’t feel anxious that you should be doing something else. This is the new normal, we’re resetting the temperature. And mostly, it’s really important to find somebody you can talk to. It’s valuable to hear how somebody else is grappling with a problem similar to yours. Engage in dialogue — that’s why group therapy has been so important and successful.”