Homelessness is one of the biggest problems in Los Angeles. While systemic solutions are hard to find, acts of kindness from individuals like Jacqueline Norvell brings relief to a marginalized community who is in dire need of assistance.
Norvell is the founder of Brown Bag Lady, a nonprofit organization that supplies food and essential items to the homeless in Los Angeles.
Once a month, Norvell and a group of volunteers would prepare meals to hand out on skid row on first Sundays. The food would be delivered in a brown paper bag with an inspiring quote attached.
She worked even harder to support the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, supplying meals, clothes and supplies more frequently.
Along with food, Brown Bag Lady provides clothing, shoes, tents, toiletries, and haircuts. The organization even hosts an annual backpack giveaway, providing backpacks and school supplies to youth.
Marriot Hotels, the rapper Redman, Brawney, City National Bank, and the Beverly Hilton are a few of the many donors of Brown Bag Lady. Among the many volunteers is Grammy award-winning R&B diva Chaka Khan. CSI star Gary Dourdan has also come to help out with Brown Bag Lady.
Prior to the pandemic, children would volunteer in July and had a lemonade stand. In December, Brown Bag Lady would give out stockings.
“Every year at Christmas we do stockings, which is a pair of socks, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste [and] toothbrushes,” Norvell said. “We hand out over 200 of those.”
Last year, Norvell provided $1000 scholarships to three students from Crenshaw and Dorsey high schools.
In 2017, Norvell earned the Century City Chamber of Commerce Woman of Achievement award. Norvell also received the Shonda Rhimes Pilot G2 OverAchievers Grant Award.
The origin of Brown Bag Lady came in 2012 when Norvell and her son decided to give turkey dinners to the homeless on skid row on Christmas Day. They came back the next year with food, clothes and shoes to give away. In March 2014, Brown Bag Lady became an official organization.
The Law firm at Norvell works at helped her make the organization a 501c3 and they help her file her annual paperwork.
As she continued to work, donations began to pour in. A sister of a volunteer donated 300 bags of Frito Lay chips; another volunteer helped Norvell get 110 new pairs of pants to give out. A friend of Norvell donated 30 turkeys.
While out shopping for her food giveaway, Norvell helped a woman in front of her in the checkout line by buying her groceries. This moment was caught on camera and the video went viral.
“You don’t know what it’s like to look at the total and then look down the conveyor belt,” Norvell said. “The person standing behind me started recording. It was totally unplanned totally off the cuff.”
Donations of money, food, clothes began to pour in. Although she only wanted people that she knew to be volunteers initially, people began contacting her to help after hearing about Brown Bag Lady on the news.
Since it’s inception, Brown Bag Lady has provided 38,200 meals.
If you would like to donate or learn more about Brown Bag Lady, please visit https://www.brownbaglady.org/.