Matthew Kenney is a first-year undeclared student from the Bay Area and brother of GlobeMed folk legend Mary Kenney. When he is not busy warding off doubts about never living up to his sister’s legacy, he enjoys penning his disorganized thoughts to paper. He also likes playing sports, reading, and watching TV. His favorite show is Survivor, although he understands how some of the more socially-conscious members of GlobeMed could see it as a perpetuation of colonialism.
It was tough getting up before 12 pm on a Saturday. So tough that I slept through my shrill alarm of ‘Hotline Bling’ on repeat for a full 20 minutes, only to be woken by my roommates desperately yelling at me to turn it off. Once I did, I was instantly sucked back into the insidious embrace of my mattress for another 30 minutes, until I was awoken again by a call from GlobeMed personnel asking if I was still coming, because it was 8:45 am and I wasn’t at the pickup spot. Fortunately, my carpool driver Amanda was kind enough to pick me up at my dorm room. As I climbed in, the other passengers fell into an awkward silence, unnerved by my corpse-like appearance. I gave them a thumbs-up. Then we were off.
Despite the rough early start to the day, volunteering at LA Kitchen was an incredibly fun and valuable experience. It gave me a glimpse into how a successful nonprofit should be run, with a clear focus on generating a lasting positive impact in its community.
LA Kitchen accomplishes this goal in more ways than one. Their main job is to create healthy meals for disadvantaged residents in Los Angeles using produce that would normally be thrown out for cosmetic reasons (aka it looks ugly af). In doing so, they’ve helped improve food security in the area and lower the amount of overall food waste. LA Kitchen also creates job opportunities for groups that face high rates of unemployment and poverty, ranging from emancipated foster youth to older adults transitioning out of incarceration. These individuals learn to prepare the food as part of a 15-week culinary program that teaches key skills that will help them find employment afterward.
The experience itself was a blast; I never knew that shelling peas for three hours could be so therapeutic. At times, the repetition of the act would lull me into a sort of meditative trance that nobody could break me out of, which probably freaked out the kitchen staff quite a bit. Hey, I got into it. When I wasn’t comatose to the world, it was super cool to talk to the workers, who were ridiculously friendly and had interesting stories to tell. The positive vibes were flowing all morning, and I was genuinely depressed when it was time to clean up. What would I do with my life now? I was even sad to take off my hair net, and I looked awful in that thing. But we had to leave, so leave we did.
And that was my LA Kitchen experience. Thanks so much to Clara for organizing it, and I really hope we get a chance to go back! Now how do I tie this into GlobeMed without it seeming like a huge stretch on my part?
It’s actually not a stretch to say that LA Kitchen fits right in with a recent gHu we had. During the discussion, we talked about the ways that volunteer organizations, specifically those that go to foreign countries, can sometimes do more harm than good. The role and purpose of these organizations is often unclear, even to the volunteers. Resources are wasted on largely meaningless projects. While some of these projects may provide relief in the short-term, they rarely make a lasting positive change for the people living there. And as an adverse effect, the community may become reliant on the organization for resources and help rather than move towards becoming self-sufficient. I left the discussion feeling pretty cynical about volunteering in general.
But LA Kitchen dispels this worry for me. With a clear goal that is understood by everyone involved, they’ve made sure that every step of their process serves a purpose. They do not measure their success in terms of the quantity of food they can gather and distribute, but rather how they can uplift and empower. All of their resources and employees come directly from the community, with the message that “neither food nor people should ever go to waste”. By training unemployed men and women in food preparation, they help them move towards self-sufficiency and reduce the systematic cycle of recidivism. Likewise, LA Kitchen has begun to use its resources to educate and promote policy ideas that will elevate issues and mitigate future need for their services, which should be the ultimate goal of any nonprofit.
That goal is an integral part of our mission at GlobeMed. We want to provide aid for the Mpoma community, but more importantly, give them the means and tools for lasting success beyond our partnership. It’s not an easy task. But seeing that local organizations are fighting the same fight gives me confidence that we are doing the right thing. As a freshman, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for both of our organizations.
If you’re interested in volunteering at LA Kitchen, click this link!