Every Friday, an orange food truck parks on New High Street in Downtown Los Angeles on its first stop of the day. This isn’t your average L.A. food truck, though – food is not for sale, and the truck’s sole purpose is to hand out free food to unhoused people.
Share A Meal is a food truck service feeding unhoused people along a route that starts near Union Station. This past week, their path ended right along the outskirts of Skid Row.
Operating under the umbrella of the non-profit Khalsa Peace Corps based in L.A., Share A Meal also says that it aims to create a sense of community for the encampments it serves.
“Share A Meal’s ability to go directly to the unhoused populations through their food truck [is] a really critical component of what we do and what we need in L.A.,” said Pratik Thakur, a senior biology major and president of the USC chapter of Share A Meal.
According to Thakur, this organization is unique to other groups that serve the unhoused population in L.A. because it directly serves people face-to-face, while some organizations have headquarters that are inaccessible to the community.
Thakur also said that Share A Meal helps remove the stigma surrounding unhoused people. “People tend to fear homeless people in L.A.,” Thakur said, “but volunteers tackle this stigma by getting to know the people they serve on a personal level while providing them meals,” he said.
Anyone can volunteer with the organization, and Share A Meal encourages USC students to volunteer on Wednesday and Friday night service runs that wind through the streets of L.A.
“I’m glad that we’re making an impact actually and helping these people, helping them get out of poverty,” said volunteer Piyush Sud, a master’s student studying computer science.
“It always feels good when you’re giving to people.”
Through Share A Meal’s goal of giving to others, they hope to help decrease L.A.’s number of unhoused people. Not an easy task, considering that a 2022 count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found that over 41,980 houseless people live in Los Angeles.
On the September 16 Friday night service run, the sound of crinkling filled the air as Emerson Jin, a junior majoring in economics and data science, arranged Share A Meal’s classic bean and rice burritos, one of the trucks’ recurring staples, on a tray to be passed out.
Even the pandemic did not stop the organization from distributing meals throughout Los Angeles.
Anthony Puente, a food truck operator for Share A Meal, said due to COVID-19, volunteers are no longer able to prepare and roll the burritos themselves, and are instead made by Share A Meal chefs.
Armed with gloves and a limit of only three people to a truck, volunteers delivered burritos to members of the unhoused community.
While organizations like Share A Meal are making a difference by feeding and welcoming underserved communities, some of the unhoused population have expressed concerns about the city’s action to alleviate this crisis.
One of the houseless persons who received food from Share A Meal but asked to not be identified pointed out that, “[t]here was an appropriation to be allocated to the homeless community here two years ago – what happened to that money?”
Multiple bills have been passed to combat the homelessness crisis in L.A. However, members of the L.A. unhoused population still feel neglected.
Despite the lack of action from the city, Share A Meal volunteers are still looking forward to the future.
Puente, said he sees the organization expanding to multiple chapters at different colleges around L.A. in the future.
He said he loves spending time with Share A Meal, because “helping one another – it’s super important.”