Friday, May 29

Graduate student organization provides meals at Skid Row, encourages advocacy

The Grads Give Back initiative encourages graduate students to volunteer and advocate on behalf of homeless individuals. (Courtesy of Alexander Fung)

For many homeless individuals in Los Angeles, food provided by the Grads Give Back initiative and its partners may be their only hot meal of the day.

Grads Give Back, an initiative of the Graduate Student Association internal vice president’s office that launched in April, partnered with Monday Night Mission and the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition to distribute food and water to the homeless population in Skid Row every weekday, averaging 250 meals per night.

Monday Night Mission is a nonprofit organization that feeds homeless individuals in Los Angeles five nights a week on Skid Row. The Grads Give Back initiative coordinates graduate student volunteers to staff Monday Night Mission and Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition events.

Alexander Fung, the 2017-2018 GSA internal vice president, said Grads Give Back aims to get graduate students involved in volunteering and advocacy.

“Aside from providing graduate students easy opportunities to volunteer in the midst of their busy lives, we wanted to inspire our student body to engage in advocating for more resources to help those experiencing homelessness,” Fung said.

Fung said some members of the Grads Give Back initiative have become advocates for rapid sheltering and affordable housing in Los Angeles. He added that some members have gotten involved with the #SheDoes campaign, a social media project that aims to provide housing to 1,000 homeless women in the LA area by the end of the year.

Fung said he launched Grads Give Back to spread awareness about homelessness among graduate student volunteers.

“What a lot of us fail to realize is that these (homeless) individuals face many of the same problems that we face,” Fung said. “I wanted to use this opportunity not just to provide ways where graduate students can easily volunteer, but spread awareness to our fellow graduate students.”

Will Nash, a graduate student in the physics and astronomy department who volunteers with the program, said he has had a positive experience with Grads Give Back because it has expanded his awareness of the homeless population in Los Angeles.

“It’s really eye opening to see how a huge population lives in such poor conditions like Skid Row with places like Beverly Hills just a few miles away,” Nash said.

Delilah Naranjo, a graduate student and the project manager of Grads Give Back, said the organization aims to encourage busy graduate students to volunteer by making the volunteer process easier through more organized logistics.

“Graduate students are often busy with research and/or their dissertation. This is where we come in,” Naranjo said. “We coordinate everything to make it as simple as possible for graduate students to get involved.”

Fung’s term as internal vice president ended Thursday, but Naranjo said she and other graduate students are working to continue the initiative next year.

“We are currently working with the newly elected GSA executive officers to see if they are interested in continuing this initiative next year,” Naranjo said. “If not, we will work with the interested graduate students to create a new student organization to continue this project.”

Contributing reports by Iman Alamdari, Daily Bruin contributor.

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