Community Spotlight: Playa del Rey’s Grass Roots Neighbors joins with community to feed those in need

On a recent Friday afternoon in Playa del Rey, volunteers tried to socially distance as they assembled generous bags of lettuce, peppers, cheese, meats, milk and other refrigerator staples, ready to be carried to people’s trucks and distributed to families located across the Westside. Just as the bags were ready to be completed, a neighborhood baker walked by with warm loaves of bread to be added to two lucky delivery bags for the week.

Since May, Grass Roots Neighbors (GRN) has been operating out of a storefront donated by Legado Properties on Vista Del Mar, acting as a lifeline for the people it serves with twice a month deliveries of food, fresh produce and household essentials. With the COVID pandemic not slowing down and unemployment rates high, Playa del Rey residents, Stephanie and Vlad Popescu, the husband-and-wife volunteer team behind the organization, expect the need for food will continue to out pace their resources. 

“We have a waiting list and are financially hitting our limit,” says Stephanie. “We’re going to have to increase our donations if we’re going to be able to increase our capacity and help more people.”

Stephanie explains that most of the households they serve are single mothers or seniors who live locally, and have either lost their jobs due to the pandemic or are unable to work, leaving them with the prospect of using what little they have to pay their rent or purchase groceries.

“It’s so important that we’re taking one thing off of their plate and helping them redirect their resources so they can keep a roof over their heads,” said Stephanie. “A lot of our families are really struggling, so we make sure to check in with them emotionally as well.”

The Zar family brings groceries to their cars to deliver to other families.

Currently, GRN is providing groceries for 44 families. With more than 45 households currently on their waiting list, they’re hoping additional support from the community will enable them to feed more people at this critical time. Stephanie says the outpouring of support from the community, local moms and people who walk by their location and get inspired to help has been amazing.

“The community support has been mind blowing,” says Stephanie. “It really has been a true grassroots effort. People who are donating realize that they’re lucky to have jobs and a dependable income and they want to help. It’s been great to see so many people come together right now.”

She says every donation is appreciated, and they’re especially grateful for those providing recurring monthly donations, even at $5, because it helps them anticipate from month-to-month how many families they can serve. Something unique to the all-volunteer organization is that once a family or person has been added to their delivery list, they are part of the GRN community and can count on receiving a food delivery every two weeks without needing to sign-up again. 

 “We are constantly getting requests for help and to help,” said Vlad. “We want to be able to grow to support 60 households a month because our space can accommodate that. With our volunteer base growing, I think we can get there if the donations are there.”

Another way to support GRN is buying doubles of your favorite items at the grocery store.

“If you have the extra budget, when you go to the store to shop for your own family, throw in the same items to donate to another family. It becomes a good habit,” said Stephanie. 

On Saturday, August 22 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Grass Roots Neighbors will host its first drive-through back-to-school food drive. Those interested in participating can load up their cars with shelf-stable food or household cleaning items and volunteers will unload your car for you. Donations of baby formula and household essentials like paper towels, soap and toilet paper are also appreciated. The food drive will be held in the parking lot next to their office at 200 Culver Blvd. in Playa del Rey. 

To learn more, please visit grassrootsneighbors.org.

Published August 2020.