Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Food, What?!" February Photo of the Month


Please enjoy this February Photo-of-the-Month.  This is our monthy snapshot to share with friends and family.  If you dig it, you'll see it again next month.  Thanks for viewing...

Doron, Abby, Alex and the FoodWhat Crew

I get asked by the press a lot: "What kind of youth empowerment do participants in FoodWhat walk away with?"  (Basically, "How do they grow?")  It's one of my favorite conversations as the answers are as rich and deep as our soils.

Last week we had our first annual Winter Celebration Event.  (Click here to read all about it.)  Our highlighted speaker was Brandon, a FoodWhat Alumni and Jr. Staff from 2009 and 2010.  Brandon told us about his hard path in life and how it led him to abuse drugs and alcohol: "I was robbing myself of my own happiness...I was so tired living day to day, basically as a zombie...I needed something to wake me up."  One year ago, almost to the day, Brandon stepped into his power and asked the Judge he was standing before to assign him to a residential rehab in San Jose.  This was not a cop out to serving time--this was his opportunity to get more time, but in a productive way, to turn his life around.  "In conversations with my Mom in the past, and my friends, they were always wondering if I was gonna come home, or be alive the next day, or end up in jail.  Now they don't have to worry about that."

Brandon was one year completely sober from drugs and alcohol this past Tuesday.  He has obtained housing in San Jose that he pays the monthly rent on time, and he recently received a promotion to better hours and pay at his job at Applebee's.  He has a sponsor for when things feel hard, and he's engaging with his family in positive ways. (Click the YouTube below to hear Brandon share a spoken word piece about his story.)

One type of youth empowerment looks like Brandon's story.  Finding a safe, supportive community--in this case, FoodWhat.  Having someone tell you that they see in you a spark of leadership--something bright, worth following.  Taking two steps forward for every one back.  Then through struggle, and self medicating, and sadness and despair, finally seeing that spark for yourself--and pouncing on the opportunity to be that person.  Brandon inspired all the other youth in the room that night, that anything is possible.  That they can be the brilliant, healthy, strong people if they choose to.  It's an honor to be a part of his process and that of so many youth that FoodWhat touches.  This week, we celebrate Brandon.

-Doron Comerchero
 Director--"Food, What?!"

Copyright © 2013 "Food, What?!" (Project of Life Lab), All rights reserved.

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"Food, What?!" (Project of Life Lab)
Life Lab
1156 High St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95064

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The First Annual Winter Gathering!

Thank you for supporting us in this successful event!

On Thursday, February 21st the candles were lit and food was set out at the downtown Santa Cruz Patagonia store as the FoodWhat staff and youth crew awaited the arrival of our guests for the first annual Winter Gathering. As the clock struck 7:00 PM, the best and brightest of Santa Cruz made their way into the space for an evening of education, good food, and mingling. This was the first time FoodWhat has hosted an event off-site, and we knew Patagonia would provide the perfect space to showcase our work and bring our FoodWhat Family together. The night was planned as a celebration for the FoodWhat community and the evening delivered a close-knit, emotional, and inspirational hour and a half for those in attendance.

In the first moments of the evening, guests snacked on youth prepared foods like beet and citrus lettuce boats (with produce from Live Earth Farms), gushed over the spanikopita, and crunched on dilly beans as they mingled with each other at high-top tables. At 7:15, Doron took the stage to introduce the youth and describe the evening’s agenda. The format that evening was unique with twelve youth leading the charge and stepping up to the plate with everything from food prep to workshop presentations. It truly gave our community a taste of the leadership and dedication intrinsic to FoodWhat. 

First, the youth crew gave food justice workshops in small groups on topics such as “Fast Food Jeopardy” and “Youth Dollar Power”. The youth had spent two weeks prepping the workshops they planned to teach at the Gathering and they floored guests with their knowledge and facilitation. As I wandered the room catching snippets of each workshop, I noticed Santa Cruz Mayor Hilary Bryant’s jaw dropping as she learned how many scoops of sugar are in the Rock Star Energy Drinks teenagers drink by the gallon. And the looks of surprise on the “Fast Food Jeopardy” groups faces when they learned that it takes 6 hours to walk off the calories from a fast food cheeseburger.

After the workshops, we gathered around the high-top tables in groups of four or five and chose question cards from a jar that gave youth and guests an opportunity to connect on a more personal level. The cards asked questions such as, “How has FoodWhat impacted your life?” and “What inspires you?" There were also more fun, food based topics like “What is your favorite food memory?” or “What is your favorite food from your cultural background?”. These questions gave us an opportunity to reflect on our connections with FoodWhat, and gave us insight into how we each got to that table, on that night.

Finally, one of our Alumni from 2009, Brandon, gave a heartfelt account of how FoodWhat has affected his life and helped him on his journey into sobriety to become the incredible person he is today. Brandon spoke candidly and honestly of the struggles he has faced with drugs and alcohol, how he dealt with them, and the road he has travelled to overcome his hardships. I looked around the room, and saw emotion in everyone’s eyes as he recited a spoken word poem about leading himself out of his own fogginess and darkness to the experience of realizing a brighter future.

THANK YOU Brandon for sharing your story. This week we celebrate your one year anniversary of taking control over your life and stepping into your strength and power.  We honor you for the work you have done and for this one year anniversary of achieving complete sobriety! We love you and appreciate having you as part of the FoodWhat family...

The night started winding down around 8:30PM, and Abby pulled out a tray of the long awaited Penny Ice Creamery sandwiches before we said “goodnight” to our guests.

Of course, everyone went crazy for them, and we were happy to top off a very sweet evening with an even sweeter dessert! When the last guest made their way out the door, the youth set about picking up, sweeping, and getting the store back to normal. Each and every youth gave 110% from start to finish (after eating an ice cream sandwich, of course)!

We are grateful that our community and supporters came together to make the Winter Gathering such a success. For those who could not make it, we appreciate how you too make the achievements of FoodWhat possible, and we look forward to connecting with you soon.


Patagonia - Penny Ice Creamery - Live Earth Farm
Companion Bakeshop - El Salchichero - Feel Good Foods - Chaminade 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Welcome to our Associate Director - Alex Carelli!

I'm bursting with excitement to share with you all some big the end of last year, Meg and Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, gave FoodWhat an incredibly generous gift to support our need for staff expansion! With the funds provided, FoodWhat was able to add a third staff person including salary, benefits, taxes, a computer--everything!

It is thus my pleasure to introduce to you, ALEX, our new and fantastic Associate Director.  In her first few weeks with FoodWhat she has already drafted an alumni plan, laid the groundwork towards a college support program for FoodWhat youth, and created new internal systems to strengthen FoodWhat's work moving forward. You can expect great growth from FoodWhat in 2013 with this new player on the team! 

"It is so nice to meet you all and I am thrilled to be part of the growing FoodWhat team! I recently moved to Santa Cruz from New York City where I was doing youth empowerment through technology education and outdoor leadership in the Bronx. It is a HUGE transition from the big city to beach town. I am super impressed with the work FoodWhat is doing and looking forward to working together to take it to the next level. I hope to connect with you all sometime soon and don't hesitate to reach out with any questions, ideas, or redwood forest hiking suggestions! Hit me up at"