Nearly 3,000 young people—minors and young adults ages 18 to 24—experience homelessness on any given night throughout Los Angeles County, according to the 2022 Greater Los Angeles Youth Count.

For the last 35 years, My Friend’s Place, a local nonprofit, has worked to empower and uplift unhoused youth across Los Angeles. Just last year, My Friend’s Place served 700 young people, providing them with basic necessities such as meals, showers, and housing support as well as employment services, education sessions, creative workshops, and more. 

And, thanks in large part to the nonprofit’s partnership with Support + Feed, My Friend’s Place is now making plant-based meals readily available to unhoused youth. 

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Created by Billie Eilish’s mother, Maggie Baird, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Support + Feed’s mission is nourishing frontline workers and vulnerable populations while supporting local vegan restaurants.

On May 13, as part of its 35th Anniversary Gala, My Friend’s Place will honor Support + Feed with a gourmet, plant-based dinner to highlight both organizations’ commitment to empowering unhoused communities and making nutritious, vegan meals accessible for all. 

The gala will feature a plant-based, family style dinner with wine pairings provided by Vegan Wines. Catered by Good Gracious! Events, the food menu will feature spicy vodka penne pasta; seared polenta topped with sweet potato and a medley of tomatoes, kale, onions, and sweet peas; smoky, three-bean stew; and grilled cauliflower served with tofu tapenade. Strawberry rhubarb galettes, flourless chocolate cake, and lemon cupcakes round out the dessert menu.

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Throughout the years, My Friend’s Place has raised millions of dollars through its annual gala to help the nonprofit provide crucial services aimed at supporting young people on their journeys toward overall wellness and finding a permanent exit from homelessness. 

Bringing vegan meals to unhoused youth

Support + Feed’s partnership with My Friend’s Place first took root in 2020, during a time of heightened fear and anxiety brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We have a very vibrant community of support here [at My Friend’s Place],” Executive Director Heather Carmichael tells VegNews. “Of course, during this heightened time, it became less vibrant, [especially in terms of] community members coming and treating our young people to special occasions of food and celebration.”

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Luckily, Support + Feed was there to step in. “Support + Feed pulled up with the extraordinary Monty’s Good Burger food truck. [Monty’s] started making fresh vegan burgers for our young people, fresh off the grill,” Carmichael says. “We had really yummy food and amazing company. Out of the darkness of [COVID-19], all of a sudden there was this air of care, of celebration, and nourishing foods.”

Since then, Support + Feed has continued to provide the young people of My Friend’s Place with vegan options, most recently from Sage Plant-Based Bistro and Brewery, a vegan restaurant chain with locations across Southern California. 

Carmichael recalls two young men at My Friend’s Place were particularly excited to try Sage. “Being vegan is a central part of their identity, and they were excited to see that Sage was here,” she says. “At this point in many young people’s lives, they can’t just walk into any restaurant, particularly one with such quality, plant-based food.”

Finding identity through vegan food

While My Friend’s Place, on average, receives vegan meal requests from two to four young people out of fifty on a daily basis, the nonprofit emphasizes how giving youth the power of choice aids in identity formation. 

“There are people [here at My Friend’s Place] who are not vegan, and it’s so brilliant to be able to engage them in food adventure, introduce them to the concept of plant-based food, and have a conversation about [the cuisine],” Carmichael says. 

“Adulthood is about identity development and having experiences to be able to learn what you like and what you don’t,” she says. “Often, poverty takes that away from a young person when they’re in crisis.”

With the help of Support + Feed, My Friend’s Place is better suited to cater to young people’s dietary needs. Prior to their relationship with Support + Feed, the nonprofit’s staff often had to scramble when they received requests for meatless meals. And more often than not, this resulted in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

“More and more, young people are coming in with very distinct preferences and dietary restrictions,” Carmichael explains. “Young people are now coming in saying, ‘I’m vegan. Do you have anything that will work for me?’ And now, we have this extraordinary partnership with Support + Feed.” 

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“[They’re helping] our young people feel regarded and seen,” she says. “Young people experiencing homelessness often are made to feel invisible, so to have food that is designed to nourish them is profound in that relationship cultivation with our young people.”

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