Giovanni Pantoja and Noel Velasco crossed paths for the first time in late 2011 as a result of their involvement with a local mentoring program – The Partnership Scholars. The core of the program consists of college preparatory workshops and culturally enriching monthly trips. During one of these trips, Giovanni and Noel were humbled by the dire conditions on the streets of Skid Row. Instead of allowing their concern to fade, Giovanni and Noel set out to design a sustainable plan to help one of the largest homeless populations in the nation and motivate others to seek answers to community problems. After months of hard work, a wishful thought transformed into Alleviate Skid Row.
Prior to our Fourth Serving, Alleviate Skid Row collaborated with others like Lets.Give, an organization started by a West Torrance High School student to uplift disadvantaged youth. Working with Lets.Give, I felt the positivity and eagerness from their members from start to finish. The same can be said about the handful of good-hearted businesses, individuals, non-profits, and schools we joined in between servings to help Skid Row. After months of collaborative work in varying capacities, I was excited to plan and execute our Fourth Serving.
During our Fourth Serving planning phase, Lets.Give offered to help once again. In addition, The Partnership Scholars agreed to distribute a flyer among the scholars and mentors that outlined two Fourth Serving volunteer opportunities. It was quickly well-received. As our Fourth Serving drew near, Noel and I kept both of our partners informed as we finalized details. After a number of Sunday afternoon meetings and follow-up calls, Noel and I were ready to bring our plan to fruition.
The morning of our Fourth Serving was now upon us and it was time to execute. It started with a lot of energy. From the moment we arrived in Skid Row, Noel and I began to work. The first task was to get everything out of the van. Soon thereafter, volunteers from The Partnership Scholars, Summons Legal Staffing, and Instagram began to trickle in. As we worked together, an unexpected friend from Skid Row named Brian joined our effort. He seemed to be liked by those in the vicinity so it gave us good standing. One special moment I will not forget was when I began to gift Alleviate Skid Row wristbands, he immediately put his on and hugged me. Once we were done with set-up and the core group was present, I led a small introduction, allowed volunteers to introduce themselves, and assigned tasks. It was now time to kick off our Fourth Serving!
As the serving began, the energy continued to build. Our friends in Skid Row received their choice of lunch, clothing, toiletries, and a book. The 250 plus book selection was a new addition made possible by a generous individual. The selection was plentiful enough for a variety of readers due to the assortment of novels, textbooks, and children’s books. I was happy to see a strong interest. In just a half hour, we handed out the large portion of our donations. It was the perfect time for Lets.Give to arrive and join the party with 35 volunteers and over 1,000 donations of their own. After I welcomed and assigned tasks to Lets.Give, I took a moment to look around and noticed all the warm interactions between the different sides of the table. It was a heartwarming display of friendship. In the span of two hours, over 2,000 lunches and other essential were distributed and served. This was by far our biggest serving to date.
I consider this serving a success because of the smiles, laughs, hugs, and kind words from our friends in Skid Row. I feel very fortunate to be able to share this side of Skid Row with all the volunteers. It will be hard to top this serving, but Noel and I will try our best to continue pushing Alleviate Skid Row to new heights in benefit of the less fortunate that call the streets of Skid Row their home.
In between servings, Giovanni and I leveraged the strength of collaboration. The 17 benevolent entities listed below in addition to a number of analogous individuals helped Alleviate Skid Row to surpass the 20,000 in-kind donations mark.
One of our favorite collaborations took place in June with Back on My Feet. For those that are unaware, Back on My Feet is a national non-profit focused on supporting their homeless members through running and community. We teamed up for a four mile fun run that appealed to roughly 75 members and potential volunteers. Due to a generous donation we received earlier in the year, Alleviate Skid Row also provided a filling post-run breakfast. The experience resulted in big smiles and reaffirmed our ability to carry out a larger event.
Two years ago Alleviate Skid Row was merely an idea discussed over a Caramel Frappuccino and an iced coffee. I am thankful for everyone that has supported our Vision and helped create and shape Alleviate Skid Row into what it is today. The latter half of the year will present unique challenges as Giovanni is faced with a long list of college and scholarship applications. Regardless, we hope to continue to move Alleviate Skid Row forward and help Skid Row the most we can.
During the last six months, I have witnessed Alleviate Skid Row grow beyond our initial blueprint. As family and friends took notice of our work and began to share it with businesses, schools, and other like minded groups, new opportunities to share our Vision started to appear. One example of this is a donation drive that I proposed to my high school and was carried out with the help of student government. My fellow students selflessly united over the course of one week to gather blankets, clothing, lunches, shoes, and toiletries. Over 5,000 donations were made and distributed to our friends in Skid Row.
After a number of successful collaborations, it was time to focus on our third serving. As it approached, my mom, Noel, and I set aside time to sort over 700 pairs of shoes from a donation drive at Visitation Catholic School to be distributed in addition to cold lunches. Within a few hours, the shoes were organized and labeled by size to make it easier for everyone. It was great to work with my mom and have her be a part of the behind the scenes action. One day before our third serving, I finished my semester finals in the morning and met Noel to prepare 300 cold lunches shortly thereafter. With an earlier start than last time, a filling meal, and upbeat music, everything was ready before we knew it.
Our third serving was the best the experience I have had in Skid Row despite a short notice switch to Gladys Park. When we arrived at the park, city employees greeted us and opened the gates. Noel and I began to work right away. We unloaded the boxes with cold lunches and bags filled with shoes. Soon, our volunteers started to show up, including two families from Visitation Catholic School. The eagerness of the parents and children put a smile on my face. After a quick introduction and delegation of tasks, everything was ready to go. Our third serving was underway! I enjoyed the conversations with our friends in Skid Row and the hustle to make sure everything continued to run as planned. Over the course of a couple of hours, each and every cold lunch and pair of shoes we brought was distributed. As our third serving came to a close, it was nice to see another group show up to pick up where we left off. On the drive home, I took a moment to think about how far Alleviate Skid Row has come from our first serving when it was only two of us.
One more for the books!
The six months in between the second and third serving were active for Alleviate Skid Row due to the number of collaborations that were proposed, planned, and executed. The list below captures the various businesses, individuals, non-profits, and schools that we worked with and the resulting donation or action:
|Back on My Feet||1 Morning Run|
|Basha High School||140 Jackets|
|Basha High School||100 Blankets|
|Curves Granada Hills||750 Toiletries|
|Curves Granada Hills||125 Rain Ponchos|
|Family, Friends, and Co-Workers||650 Assorted Item|
|Holiday Inn Express Century City||900 Toiletries|
|Holiday Inn Express Century City||100 Bedding Items|
|LA Alliance High School||50 Lunches|
|Lennox Academy||5400 Toiletries|
|Lennox Academy||300 Lunches|
|Lennox Academy||200 Blankets|
|Majestic Bliss Soaps||50 Soaps|
|Majestic Bliss Soaps||1000 Clothing Items|
|Ralphs||96 Cartons of Boxed Water|
|Skid Row Cleanup||2 Cleanups|
|UnitedLA||1500 Clothing Items|
|UnitedLA||100 Pair of Shoes|
|Visitation Catholic School||300 Enhanced Lunch Bags|
|Visitation Catholic School||740 Pairs of Shoes|
There are many not on this list because their contribution cannot be measured in this manner, but they are appreciated just the same.
Thank you to everyone for believing in a couple of guys who were crazy enough to try to make a meaningful change in the world.
From the time I have spent in Skid Row over the last couple of years, I knew our second serving was going to be an experience that we would prepare for but be unable to completely map out. Why? Each person brings their distinct character to the table and makes it unique. This provides for a dynamic and exciting situation that I had been looking forward to since the beginning of the year.
Even when there is a great deal of planning, the unexpected can still occur. On the day before preparation day, our student photographers mentioned the possibility of not being able to join us due to unforeseen circumstances at work and with family. Although this made me somewhat nervous, Noel and I quickly came up with an alternative plan to be prepared. Luckily, we were able to put this plan aside as both photographers confirmed they were able to join us after all. This was a relief.
On preparation day, I did not realize how long it would take us to prepare 300 lunch bags that included a sandwich, water, banana, fruit snacks, toothpaste, and toothbrush. After six hours of hard work, everything was ready for the big day. It was tiring, but I knew putting in the work now was going to make tomorrow much easier on us.
As we arrived in Skid Row, we were welcomed by our friends eager to receive a lunch from us. Each person kindly returned the favor with a heart-warming smile, thank you, or blessing. In my opinion, these are the priceless moments that are hard to be matched. I was very happy to interact with our friends in Skid Row that continue to show me that even if an individual is in a bad environment, they can still be good to themselves and others. Despite some of the challenges leading up to the second serving, I am content with how it turned out.
Thank you all for believing in Alleviate Skid Row. A special thank you goes to Mikayla for being a valuable addition to the team. Until next time!
During our inaugural serving, Giovanni and I listened to Skid Row. We listened to stories of failure, coercion, and rejection. The difficulty with hearing these stories was amplified because what we had to offer was not going to fix circumstances derived from years and years of misalignment. This realization added to our pre-existing nervousness of carrying out a serving in an unpredictable environment.
I do not know when it happened, but a smile emerged from the crowd gathering around the table. After the smile, a laugh was exchanged with a new friend. More smiles and laughs ensued. The serving began to slowly tip from negative and uncertain to positive. Alleviate Skid Row was making a difference that only a moment before seemed improbable.
Finding ourselves in an improved situation, we began to ask questions and observe our surroundings to a greater degree. The information Giovanni and I gleaned during this exercise was the blueprint to the months leading up to our second serving. After a small recess to allow for family time during the holiday season, we returned to work.
As active as my life is at times with responsibilities at the office and other business, I strive to keep reading on my priority list. Recently, I have engaged in readings that share a similar view on luck which can be summarized as follows: luck likes you best when you are not looking for it. Well, it turned out that luck found us en route to our second serving. Alleviate Skid Row was presented with the opportunity to partner with Basha High School to conduct a donation drive. We accepted, turned ideas into action, and achieved much success specifically in the form of over 1,000 toys and toiletries. The large majority of the in-kind donations were provided to Union Rescue Mission and Good Shepherd Center, however, Giovanni and I held onto toothpastes and toothbrushes to supplement our upcoming effort. Once the Basha High School donation drive came to a close, we returned to in-person and phone meetings to hash out the details concerning the second serving.
The Friday before our second serving was active. It took Giovanni and me roughly six hours to pull together 300 cold lunches consisting of a turkey and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fruit snacks, banana, bottled water, and aforementioned toiletries. Around midnight, I noticed Giovanni was getting tired from a quick glance at his recent work product. I asked him if he wanted to stop, get rest, and finish in the morning. Without hesitation, Giovanni replied “We have to finish what we started!” Another couple of Red Bulls were opened, the level of the music was increased, and we pushed to the end.
There were a few unexpected disruptions the next morning. Fortunately, Giovanni and I were able to adjust accordingly and bring our second serving to life. It was a whirlwind with Giovanni at front and center accompanied by Mikayla (our very first volunteer). Meanwhile, I assumed a background role to make sure they had everything to serve Skid Row. In about an hour’s time, everything was gone and everyone was happy. We packed up and said “see you later.”
Thank you to all of our supporters that contributed to a successful second serving. Giovanni and I are excited to get back to work, continue to share our Vision, and push Alleviate Skid Row to the next level.
I was looking forward to the inaugural donation and eager to execute months of planning but there was also a small feeling of anxiety. Even though everything was carefully planned out, I could not get past this feeling. It felt like the first day of school when you are not sure what to expect.
My anxiety ceased once I began to interact with the people of Skid Row. All the nerves and unsteadiness were replaced by joy as I received kind words and prayers. Everyone came to us with a smile. It was an indescribable feeling to see their smile knowing that it was because of something we were doing for them. I also appreciated their willingness to share personal stories of struggle. The stories were often sad but made me realize how lucky I am in my personal life and reaffirmed my decision to create Alleviate Skid Row. It was a definitely a life changing day. I look forward to come back again in the spring.
On our way to Skid Row, excitement filled my dad’s truck. After several months of planning, networking, and fundraising, Giovanni and I were excited to bring Alleviate Skid Row to life with our first serving. The start to something bigger than both of us was near.
As soon as Giovanni and I arrived, we got to work. We unloaded and set up the donation consisting of about 300 ham and cheese sandwiches, apples, bananas, and bottled waters. Over the course of two hours, we met an array of people eager for a meal. A common denominator among the majority was respect toward us and the donation. Giovanni and I even received a handmade paper flower as a gift from a sweet lady and prayers from many others. It was heartwarming to witness a high level of character and faith in a lowly place.
I am happy with the outcome of our first donation. Now it is time to get back to the drawing board and figure out the next one.
Alleviate Skid Row would not be where it is at today without its generous and kindhearted supporters. The support we have received from family, friends, and local businesses means everything to us.