by Aurelio Mitjans
Editor’s Note: One of our core programs is Youth Moving On, which helps youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood. Many of the youth we serve are homeless and don’t have the money to eat regular meals. Here, Aurelio Mitjans, program director of the youth drop-in center, Peer Resource Center, writes about the challenges the youth face to meet their most basic needs, now and during the holidays.
Have you seen those Snickers commercials where people who are really hungry aren’t acting like themselves, and all it takes to bring them back to normal is a bite of a Snickers bar?
While the ads are meant to be funny, those of us who work at Youth Moving On see the serious side of them. We work with young folks who are not the best versions of themselves because they lack many of basic needs required for a decent life. If these needs continue to go unmet, it can lead to or strengthen feelings of anger, fear, confusion, regret, or hopelessness.
Many of the youth we serve are homeless. They’re also hungry, really, really hungry. Food is so vital to what we do here at the Peer Resource Center, where we always have snacks and microwavable meals ready. It’s the one thing we know most, if not all, youth who walk through our doors daily will take advantage of. They say your stomach is your second brain. You have to feed it. If it’s empty, it’s hard to focus when trying to get things done. The only goal I’ve ever achieved on an empty stomach is having my wisdom teeth pulled, and that is because the doctor made me do it.
Youth Moving On essentially serves most of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Food is a big part of that. If we’re not giving it away, we’re teaching people how to cook it or teaching career development skills so youth can get a job or paid internship through one of our employment partners so they can buy their own food.
As wealthy, diverse and powerful as Los Angeles County is, we are also always at or near the top of list when it comes to food insecurity in the United States.
I honestly don’t think the Peer Resource Center would be very effective without food. It’s a huge part of our budget. I like to think we contribute to Costco’s stock price’s (COST) steady growth.
It’s tough seeing people go hungry. It’s toughest during the holidays. This should be the happiest time for year for everyone, but it’s not. This is when we see a spike in depression and thoughts of self-harm. Depending on who we’re talking to, we need to think twice before asking that seemingly harmless question that gets thrown around every year: “Do you have any plans for the holidays?”
Holidays? Many of our youth don’t have holidays, at least not like you and I do. At Youth Moving On, we try our best to give them positive experiences to the best of our ability through things like family-style dinners and Christmas gifts. This has a lot to do with those of you who generously donate, and fuel our mission and our youth’s stomachs.
And for you, we are grateful. I’m sure our youth would say the same.
Thank you to all who generously give to Hillsides. If you would like to give back to homeless, hungry youth during the holidays, you can do so here.