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Mira Costa Senior Puts Spotlight on Hunger Through South Bay Food Initiative

Apr 24, 2020 11:12AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Ryan Rossow of the South Bay Food Initiative

Food insecurity is a major problem in Los Angeles County and the South Bay. In the last five weeks, the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis has caused an increasing number of families to struggle with putting food on the table.

Here in Manhattan Beach, one of the most prominent advocates for eradicating hunger is Mira Costa High School senior Ryan Rossow. As the president and co-founder of the nonprofit South Bay Food Initiative, he leads efforts to eradicate food insecurity and waste through education and volunteer events. 

And as someone with his finger on the pulse of the current crisis, Rossow has seen a skyrocketing need for help. 

"Who knew that I would be receiving hundreds of calls to my personal cell phone and over 13,000 visits to our website in the last month?" said Rossow. "It has been life altering, to say the least."

Ways to Help

According to the Los Angeles Food Bank, the number of people served has gone from 300,000 to 500,000 per month during the coronavirus shutdown, and food distribution from their two distribution centers has increased by 73% compared to the first two months of 2020 and this time last year.

While many people want to help, a large number of volunteer opportunities and gatherings have been put on hold as the county deals with the coronavirus crisis.

Yet Rossow said that there are a variety of ways that people can help right now, including both volunteering and donating to the cause. 

"We continue to partner with the local food banks like the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Westside Food Bank, LAX Food Bank, Food For Kids, and Shared Bread, and although we are not taking groups of students to these locations, we are encouraging individuals to volunteer if they feel safe," said Rossow. "It is best to double-check on our website or the food banks' websites to see when they have opportunities, as things change rapidly at this time."

Rossow added that the group has partnered with Food Cycle LA, which needs volunteers to recover food and deliver it, and Helping Hands, which needs drivers to deliver food to seniors who have been asked to shelter at home.

Additionally, he said, there is a need for volunteers to help the Red Cross hand out food at local schools.

Those who are looking for food are encouraged to call 211 or go to to find a pantry close to home for help. There are also food distribution centers listed on the SBFI website.

Donations Welcome

Aside from volunteer work, there is also a need for donations, said Rossow. Food banks in particular can make the best use of monetary donations because they are able to buy foods in bulk. For example, each dollar donated to the L.A. Regional Food Bank can yield four meals.

The South Bay Food Initiative has a GoFundMe page dedicated to helping food banks purchase items that they need that have not been donated.

Rossow noted that the group is also working with the Rotary Club to secure additional locations for people to donate their non-perishable food.

And if you have have perishable food to donate, SBFI will help you find a place for it. 

"We will try to connect large amounts of perishable items with food pantries that are providing hot meals to the public every week," said Rossow. "For now, if you have a food donation, please fill out the form on the website so that we can recover it in a safe way."

South Bay Food Initiative

Rossow founded the South Bay Food Initiative along with friends Andrew Cormack and Max Karambelas two years ago. After volunteering at a local soup kitchen, they decided to start a club at Mira Costa. They then created the SBFI to serve as a clearinghouse to match volunteers and donors with areas of need.

To date, the South Bay Food Initiative has donated more than two tons of food, hundreds of volunteer hours, and thousands of dollars to local food banks, pantries and soup kitchens. All told, the group has provided meals to more than 100,000 people in L.A. County.

The group now includes more than 50 students at Mira Costa, Palos Verdes, Redondo Union, and Peninsula High Schools.

Its partners include Shared Bread, Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Project Chicken Soup, LAX Food Bank, Westside Food Bank, and Volunteer Center of South Bay/Long Beach’s Food 4 Kids Program.

As a senior, Rossow is planning to head to college in the fall (although he has not made his final decision). Nevertheless, he said, the organization will continue its work. 

"The South Bay Food Initiative is a very vital and viable community organization that will continue to thrive moving forward," he said. "We have a great group of individuals who will take over when I move on. The plan is for Rex Robins to be the president of the organization at Mira Costa High School. We are working on the key contacts at the other high schools in the area. It is my plan to stay involved as an advisor and to expand the program in whatever location I choose to live."

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