UCLA student group helps nonprofit pack over 4,000 meals for homeless

Dozens of volunteers at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center quickly spread peanut butter and jelly on bread and stacked sandwiches in an assembly line at an event to promote National Homeless Awareness Week on Saturday. Volunteers put together 4,083 meals for homeless people at the event. The original goal was to pack 5,000 meals.

 

The Muslim Student Association at UCLA sponsored the event and helped secure the location, and many members of the organization volunteered. A newly formed nonprofit organization called MyPocketChange, reached out to the Muslim Student Association about participating, said Wali Kamal, a third-year applied mathematics student and the group’s president.

 

MyPocketChange, which focuses on bringing aid to low-income individuals, gave the majority of the homemade sandwiches and drinks to the Union Rescue Mission, a nonprofit which specializes in helping people on Skid Row. Some meals were also provided to a domestic violence shelter run by Upward Bound House, a nonprofit that aims to combat homelessness among families. “Every penny counts and it adds up to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Van Levine who cofounded MyPocketChange with her husband, Larry Levine.

 

Small scale solutions, like the brown bag event hosted by MyPocketChange, can often help bring forth discussion about an issue and spread awareness, said Toby Hur, a member of the faculty at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs who works in the field of homelessness, in an email statement. “Our capacity as students tends to be kind of limited in terms of our means,” said Kamal, who saw the partnership with MyPocketChange as a way to give students in the organization more resources and clear goals for the event.

 

Sarah Kanee, a second-year environmental science student who worked at the event, compared volunteering at UCLA to the volunteer work she did in her home country of Saudi Arabia. “I feel like we’re making more of a difference here. There’s more teamwork (and) a ‘volunteering high,’ which I didn’t feel at home. There’s more incentive to want to come,” Kanee said.

 

A key interest for many of the volunteers was spending time with friends in a relaxed environment. The volunteers were provided with snacks as well as pizza for lunch, and spent time talking with friends while putting together meals.

 

This is MyPocketChange’s first big event, but the organization plans to expand its operations, said Larry Levine, who is now working full time in the organization. The charitable organization is going to use the rest of the year to work with the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to bring aid to families with children that have terminal illnesses. The goal is to bring year-round care, Van Levine said. The MyPocketChange founder said she is hopeful that by 2015, events like the one on Saturday can happen at least once a month, even if on a smaller scale. “We know it’s only one meal on one day but every little bit does help. So we do this one event and we’re hoping we can do a lot more as we grow as an organization,” Larry Levine said.