Nourish L.A. was born in a back alley in Mar Vista 21 Sundays ago, when urban farmer Natalie Flores set up a drive-thru behind her home to help feed neighbors hit hard by the current coronavirus pandemic, feeding 50 to 65 families at a time with surplus food that had been diverted from becoming landfill waste. Out of work herself, she never expected it to become a full-time job.
“I’d been going through all the emotions of COVID, being stuck at home and feeling that I just couldn’t serve,” the former barista tells L.A. Weekly from the parking lot of the Wood Café in Culver City, where her relocated food giveaway program fed 1,075 people in need of access to food on Sunday afternoon.
“I knew there had to be a way to serve and there were things people needed, I just hadn’t cracked the code yet. I’d been an urban farmer for 10 years and met a couple of incredible people at Food Cycle L.A. by researching landfills, and I asked them if there was any way I could get access to some of the surplus food being dumped to help feed my community.”
They warned her it would be a challenge and she was up for it.
“I was hearing stories of people in just the worst positions possible — all they had was $100 left to their names and had just lost their jobs and didn’t even know how they were going to feed their families of three, four and five people,” says Flores, whose nickname “Sunshine” matches her personality. “We knew all that food was going to waste and it was such a shame. We do not live in an area that has a lack of abundance.”
With all the restaurants closed down in her neighborhood due to coronavirus restrictions, she reached out to former Venice Grind boss Demetrios Mavromichalis for help. He’s a local restaurateur who also co-owns The Mar Vista, The Art Bar, The Wood Café, Mavro Coffee and helped launch the Mar Vista Farmers market 15 years ago. Nourish L.A. had outgrown the alley and Flores asked if she could use The Wood Café parking lot as her giveaway hub.
“Because of COVID shutdowns and rather than trying to piecemeal our businesses together to try to make sense, this came along and made all the sense in the world,” Mavromichalis says in between unloading boxes of produce in the parking lot on Sunday.
“We had leftover food in our restaurants that we had to get rid of. We were giving it to our employees and fellow co-workers and at the same time Natalie approached me and said boss, can we get together and do something at The Wood while you’re closed? So I thought let’s take our empty restaurants while we’re closed and give out donated food weekly at food drives.”
And the more food the grassroots operation gives away, the more donations they receive. In addition to the other surplus food that has been donated by Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Sorrento Italian Foods and Sunrise Produce Co., Flores is also handing out thousands of baby seedlings from Shemesh Farms Lettuce Grow to help encourage more local urban farming. Ceor Bakery (also known as Cast Your Bread) donated a truckload of bread baked just for the giveaway.
The only question asked of those driving through the parking lot or walking up to the pickup table at the shuttered Wood Café is “how many in your family?”
“There’s no shame in your game coming here to grab some food,” says Mavromichalis. “Everybody is beat down with COVID and the civil unrest and everything else that is going on in this town. We want to put our neighbors’ minds at ease. It’s uplifting watching our volunteers of all ages. It doesn’t really pay the bills, but it does feed the soul.”