The Los Angeles region has a high population of residents who have migrated from other areas of the country, but what do these so-called “transplants” do during the holidays, with families sometimes thousands of miles away?
For Venice residents Mark Kunzman and fellow “transplants” Michael Swanander and Stuart Acher, it’s an ideal day to feed the homeless.
Since 2001, the friends have been organizing a slowly growing Christmas Day feeding program, dubbed “Renegade Goodness,” where they and and a team of volunteers hand-deliver meals to homeless people in Venice and Santa Monica.
They start preparing and assembling the bag lunches from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Christmas eve, Friday, December 24th, and distribute the meals between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Christmas Day Saturday, December 25th. Volunteers will meet at 621 Washington Blvd., Venice.
Public participation is free, but Kunzman suggests that participants help purchase food for the event.
Kunzman asks those interested in participating to call in advance to arrange to come at times when volunteers are most needed.
On December 24th, volunteers put together bags with cold-cut turkey or bologna sandwiches, fruit, cookies and juice packs to distribute.
On Christmas Day, volunteers form a caravan of vehicles and scout out homeless people along Speedway and Ocean Front Walk in Venice, at Palisades Park in Santa Monica and any other local areas where they are tipped off that the homeless may have congregated.
“Last year it was pouring rain, and we found a lot of homeless near the Santa Monica Municipal Court,” says Kunzman.
“I make calls to nonprofit groups to try and feel out where populations of homeless might be,” says Kunzman.
Kunzman’s idea for the feeding bloomed from his childhood experience. Part of a Jewish family from central New Jersey, the Kunzmans would find themselves with “nothing to do” each year on Christmas Day. So eventually his family decided that they would take a trip down to a local soup kitchen and volunteer. This became the family activity on a number of Christmases.
Kunzman moved to Venice in 2000 and found himself again in a situation with nothing to do on Christmas and now with no family to visit.
By 2001, he had decided to put Christmas to good use by expanding on what his family used to do.
“I went out and spent a couple hundred dollars on food. A couple of friends and I made about 150 lunches and gave them out to the homeless that year,” says 28-year-old Kunzman.
Now in its fourth year, Kunzman and his friends’ efforts have grown into an activity of interest to other community members who haven’t a clue about what to do on Christmas Day.
Some local businesses began to get involved as residents spread word of the activity. World Cafe in Venice now lends its staff and equipment to slice up all the cold cuts. A manager at Groundwork coffee shop in Venice helped put the word out and contributed to the food funds. Last year, some staff and management from Shane Bar in Santa Monica came out to volunteer and contribute to the efforts.
For many, Christmas Day is a time for relaxation and reflection on a busy year and holiday season. But for Kunzman, it’s a time for planning food preparation and distribution strategies and a time for charitable work.
“I live in this town. This is my home,” he says about Venice. “There are homeless people right outside my house.”
Kunzman is not an activist for the homeless. He describes himself as not politically or religiously motivated, and he’s not even much involved in homeless causes the rest of the year, he admits. He simply sees Christmas Day as a prime opportunity to do a charitable deed, he says.
“People have come up and said to me, ‘You can feed the homeless any day. It doesn’t just have to be Christmas,'” says Kunzman. “And they’re right.
“But people have jobs and busy daily lives, and I find that Christmas is a time when you can actually get people’s attention on issues like this, and it’s a time when people will respond positively and help in charitable efforts.”
Now Kunzman is looking for others who, for whatever reason, have nothing else to do on Christmas.
“Los Angeles is a transplant city,” he says.
And of course, for an event started by a band of twenty-somethings, it makes a surefire opportunity for a social gathering.
“We like to make it a big party. It’s fun for people to get together and meet new people while doing this kind of work,” says Kunzman.
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