MyfriendshouseLA volunteers prepare to distribute food to the needy
This year, Christmas fell on a Wednesday and for many people in the southland and throughout the world signified the arrival of one of the most anticipated days of the year. However, for MyfriendshouseLA founder and Executive Director, Tiffany Rose it may have been Christmas but more importantly it was Wednesday.
Since 2008, the Virginia native with the huge heart has spent every Wednesday on San Pedro Boulevard between 5th and 6th in the Skid Row section of Los Angeles from 12pm-2pm feeding the homeless and this Wednesday will be no different.
“For almost 300 consecutive Wednesdays at the same time, same place whether its 120 degrees, pouring rain, snow or holidays we’ve been there,” she says adamantly. “This year Christmas is on a Wednesday. I already have people calling me asking, ‘Are you going to be down there?’ And I’m like its Weds right? It’s a commitment we’ve made and as long as God allows us to be there we’re going to be there.”
What started out as an effort among a few friends has grown into a movement that includes weekly an average of 20-40 volunteers that has fed and clothed an estimated 40,000 homeless people in just over five years.
“I’m a person of action,” claims Rose. “If I hear of something or see a need I try to figure out how I can help. Something in my mind triggers and I start to figure out what I can do. I’m always challenged. I’m action oriented.”
The extreme poverty that she witnessed on Skid Row upon her arrival in Los Angeles years ago, Rose explains is what prompted to her action.
“I’m not from LA, I’m from Virginia and we don’t have that type of poverty there,” she says. “When I moved here I couldn’t believe there was that kind of poverty here. I was just taken aback. I later found out that Skid Row has the largest concentration of homelessness in the US.”
The former real estate agent and budding screenwriter goes on to reveal that soon after her initial introduction to Skid Row she began volunteering at a few of the missions down there. Although, for the “action-oriented” young woman the many hurdles that accompanied her volunteer experience with some of the larger missions, made lending a helping hand more difficult that she had anticipated.
“There are so many restrictions in a building,” she said clearly still frustrated. “That’s why some people won’t go to the mission. It’s so much paperwork in volunteering it can be a hindrance; there’s tons of paperwork involved, fingerprints and even background checks for some especially if you’re dealing with youth. I found that some people just want to come out and give and share and I wanted to make the process easy and inviting for people so they wouldn’t feel bogged down with an application.” She added, “And with a lot of the missions you have to call them, with MyfriendshouseLA they just come down, it’s very convenient.”
The ease of participation coupled with a push from social media has been an integral part of the growth of MyfriendshouseLA Wednesday initiative. “Social media played a large part in the beginning,” insists Rose. “It started out with four friends of mine. We all use social media and we all came back and posted on Facebook, or Twitter and someone chimed in and it just kinda grew from there. We all have so many true friends, we may not call everybody up but we post what we do and that garnered the interest of people.”
The Facebook posts, Instagram pics and tweets did a little more than just garner interest. The majority of the individuals who come down to volunteer find out about her work through social media. To date the organization’s Facebook page (MyfriendshouseLA) has more than 1,350 likes; it’s Twitter and Instagram page (wefeedthehungry) have more than 25,000 followers combined. “I found about it via one of my friends I follow on twitter one day,” said advertising executive, Darren Struthers. “After coming down once I made it a goal in 2013 to come down three to four times a month. I love being able to give directly to people and seeing the immediate impact it has one their lives.” In addition to attracting volunteers her efforts recently caught the eyes of producers of the “Queen Latifah Show.”
“We came to the attention of the show, again through social media,” she recalls. “They were looking for hometown heroes and people they support and they called me and booked us for the show.” That booking eventually led to a $25,000 dollar donation from the show. According to Rose, it was the largest gift the show has given to date.
What makes MyfriendshouseLA special is that the fact that it’s primarily fueled by volunteers and gifts like the one from the Queen Latifah Show. Unlike other 501c3s MyfriendshouseLA is not a grant funded organization and relies heavily on the goodwill of its supporters which include the Panera Bread on Brand in Glendale and the Trader Joe’s in Silverlake on Hyperion. “Providing food to organizations that feed the homeless is part of our culture,” stated Ionel Acatrinei, Manager of the Panera Bread on Brand in Glendale. “It’s important for us to help the community and we feel good doing it.” In addition to the donations they receive it’s not uncommon for volunteers to cook and provide clothing and other necessary items as well.
“Sometimes we do special orders,” said LA based comedienne and MyfriendshouseLA volunteer, Melanie Comarcho. “There was a man in a wheelchair who was a bit bigger and could never find clothes in his size, so I went and bought him a pair of pants and shoes. Sometimes it’s just about fulfilling the need.” Comarcho went on to add, “It feels good and every comic is one show away from this line. And I do this as a way of tithing—it’s not always about money, sometimes it’s about giving of your time.”
Based on the popularity of its Wednesday outreach, many think the work stops there for MyfriendshouseLA. In actuality, in addition to feeding the homeless the organization also has a literacy program, which every third Thursday has story telling time with inner city youth. Its outreach efforts also include a prison outreach and senior outreach. The name MyfriendshouseLA was not a coincidence and it’s the executive director’s hopes to one day soon include housing in its list of offerings. “It’s called Myfriendshouse because we want to have affordable housing and transitional housing available for people,” she stated. “In the beginning we called it that because we wanted that type of program but didn’t have the money so we referred people to other organizations. The ultimate goal is to have a mix use facility that offers office space, housing, a resource center, food pantry, clothing boutique, classes on job readiness, so we’ll be able to have workshops and get people back to a state of self sufficiency. There are so many innovative programs we want to implement. I’m hoping in six months, to start off on a smaller scale with one home and grow from there.”
Fortunately for Tiffany Rose, as the past has proven she has a little more than luck on her side and if providence has any say in the matter she’ll be doing this work a long time.
“I really believe it’s a blessed organization, it’s a spiritual thing I can’t quite articulate but I can feel it in my soul. I feel like this is my mission and passion and this is what God wants me to do so he’s approved of it and he’s going to make sure everything else is taken care of.”
For more information on MyfriendshouseLA, visit them on FB-MyfriendshouseLA, Twitter- wefeedthehungry and Instagram-wefeedthehungry.