Ryan Rossow, 17, is a Junior at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. He’s also the President of South Bay Food Initiative. We asked Ryan to tell us about his work to alleviate hunger.
Q: Tell me about your history at the Food Bank!
A: I have been working with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank for a few years. We first started doing food drives at our school and then we started doing food sorting as individuals and eventually organized events involving groups of volunteers.
Q: Where else do you volunteer?
A: I volunteer at Mira Costa High School, Shared Bread, Project Chicken Soup, Westside Food Bank, Heal the Bay & Jimmy Miller Foundation.
Q: Why is service so important to you?
A: I feel extremely fortunate. Sharing my time and talents is part of sharing my personal wealth. Over time, I have found that the more I put in, the more I get out of it. Learning a lot, meeting great people and making a difference with what I do are all just a few of the benefits. I feel strongly about the issue of hunger and waste. I can’t expect things to be different if I don’t participate.
Q: What is the most fulfilling/rewarding part of your volunteer experience?
A: It is rewarding to know that I have motivated a lot of other people to be aware of food insecurity and do something about it. The time spent with the volunteers, the organizations and the amazing people has also been one of the most fulfilling parts of the experience. I am proud of the program that I have built and the service that it has brought to the community.
Q: What about the most challenging part?
A: The most challenging part is time management. I am constantly juggling school, sports, and running the South Bay Food Initiative.
Q: What is it about the issue of hunger, specifically, that motivates you to volunteer?
A: I have been in the Model United Nations program at Mira Costa for three years and I have spent a great deal of time studying the issue of hunger worldwide. I feel that there is so much waste and inequity in the world, and not enough action taken in order to stop it. It was when I went to volunteer at a local food pantry, and I saw kids my own age there getting groceries for their family, I was moved to action and started doing hunger-related work here in Los Angeles.
Q: Could you tell me a little more about your background and what role volunteerism has played in your life and your family’s life?
A: It is part of my upbringing and culture. My Mom brought me to volunteer at events ever since I was a child. As a young teen, I was required to do a volunteer project for my Bar Mitzvah. It was good for me to get outside of myself and help others, laying an important foundation at that time in my life. It taught me the true value of giving back; what an amazing reward it is, instead of a burden.
Q: Did you learn anything new or surprising about the work of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank while you were here?
A: When I visited the Food Bank I was surprised to learn how many people this organization services throughout Los Angeles County. Being as large of an organization that LA Food Bank is I was still surprised at the sheer size of the warehouse and the multitude of people in need.
Q: Tell me about the South Bay Food Initiative and how it came about!
A: The South Bay Food Initiative is a community organization that was created by Ryan Rossow, Andrew Cormack and Max Karambelas to help provide awareness and support to those with food insecurity. Every month we provide volunteer opportunities for our fellow students and others in the community to help out non-profits in the Los Angeles area that are committed to ending hunger. I created a website to facilitate volunteer and fundraising opportunities and a platform where charities can let us know about upcoming events. We also raise much-needed funds for our charitable partners.
We started out volunteering as individuals at a local food pantry, then we began a club at Mira Costa High School. Since then we have grown our organization to include over 50 members. We have expanded to include other schools like Redondo Union High School, Peninsula High School and Palos Verdes High School. We are hoping to expand even further this next year.
Q: What is your mission?
A: The mission of the South Bay Food initiative is to eradicate food insecurity in Los Angeles. We will do that by providing education and awareness and organizing events for the community where they can volunteer their time and resources, every month, to help end hunger.
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: It is very rewarding to know we have reached thousands of people with our food insecurity awareness campaigns and that it has resulted in more people becoming passionate and getting involved. I am proud that the South Bay Food Initiative has provided hundreds of hours of man-hours to local food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens. I have helped so many of my peers who needed volunteer service hours attain them. I am really proud that I have made a difference in my community. I never expected that the organization would grow as much as it has, or that I would have in the process.
Q: How can others get involved?
A: The South Bay Food Initiative has a minimum of one volunteer event every month, sometimes a lot more. I would encourage anyone who would like to get involved to visit our website to learn about upcoming events and to sign up. You can also follow us on Facebook. We are always looking for individuals who would like to help in the design and implementation of our organization too.
Q: Would you encourage others to volunteer at the Food Bank?
A: I would absolutely encourage others to volunteer at the Food Bank. LA Food Bank is the largest food bank in our community and they rely on the support of volunteers to be able to deliver meals to over 300,000 people every month. The time spent, behind the scenes, doing the labor, is what needs to take place for this amazing place to do their magic. So, if you really want to make a difference, roll up your sleeves and jump in, no experience is necessary, they will guide you all the way.
Thank you for supporting our mission with a financial donation. Why is it important for you to give in that way?
A: We raise money at our school from events that we do annually. Ironically, we do it by selling food. I realize that not everything LA Regional Food Bank does comes from volunteer hours and not everything that you provide is able to be donated. It is just another way for us to provide food, through you, to those who need it most. I learned that every dollar provides four meals. That makes me feel good.
Q: What is it that you wish more people in our community knew about hunger?
A: More than 1.4 million people in Los Angeles County suffer from food insecurity. It affects all ages, and people in every walk of life. One in four children suffer from hunger and it has very negative effects on them both physically and emotionally. Every year we throw away billions of pounds of food. If you buy less, give away more, and lend a hand every once in a while, we will close the gap.