MAZON Highlights Food Insecurity at ‘Hunger Bites’ Event

June 12, 2019
Photo courtesy of MAZON.

More than 200 supporters gathered June 5 to sample dishes from some of Los Angeles’ top chefs at Playa Studios in Culver City for “Hunger Bites: Small Plates, Big Change,” a fundraiser for and celebration of MAZON’s work in the fight to end hunger. Emcee Joshua Malina (“The West Wing,” “Scandal”) introduced speakers and urged the crowd to buy raffle tickets to support the organization.

Attendees paid $180 for a basic ticket and $360 for VIP tickets. By the end of the night, MAZON had raised $100,000. Attendees also received recipes for some of the featured dishes, including a Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich from Junior’s Fried Chicken, a peach and watermelon salad with feta cheese from The Butcher’s Daughter, Andrea’s California Borscht from Salty Baby LA, and a butterscotch pudding from Jar. The vegetarian offering from Jaffa, a tahini with charred eggplant, was a hit with vegetarians and carnivores alike.

In a press release before the event, MAZON President and CEO Abby J. Leibman, said the event “will allow MAZON to elevate issues faced by vulnerable Americans, move the needle on critical legislation, and solidify relationships with policymakers who share our deep concern about the pervasive yet solvable problem of hunger.” 

Inspired by Jewish values and ideals, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is a nonprofit that works to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. According to the release, 41.2 million people struggle with hunger in the United States, including 12.9 million children and 9.8 million seniors. 

In partnership with the Co-founders of CHEFS 4CHANGE — Leonardo Marino, R.L. King, Gennaro Pecchia and Michael Ramsdell — the event featured food from Etty Benhamou, Le Mervetty; Hugo Bolanos, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group; Anne Conness of Jaffa; Vivian Ku, Joy and Pine & Crane; Ivan Marquez, Broken Spanish; Joann Roth Oseary, Someone’s in the Kitchen; David Padilla, The Butcher’s Daughter; Andrew Phillips, private chef; Andrea Ruth, Salty Baby; Suzanne Tracht, Jar; and Sexy Lunch Club. Event sponsors included Soylent, Equal Exchange, St. George’s Spirits, Sunset Beer and Three Weavers Brewing.

“We are so gratified by the Los Angeles community’s response to our first annual Hunger Bites event,” Leibman told the Journal after the event. “This was a powerful evening celebrating MAZON’s work to fight hunger in the United States and Israel. As the only national Jewish social justice organization headquartered in Los Angeles, MAZON is rooted in the mission of shining a light on the pervasive issues of hunger through advocacy and policy change to help the most vulnerable in our communities.”

(From left) Actor and Emcee Joshua Malina and Board Chair Liz Kanter Groskind. Photo courtesy of MAZON.

MAZON made a sea change in the hunger space “by emphasising quality of food equally or more importantly than quantity,” said Bruce Rankin, executive director of Westside Food Bank, a nonprofit corporation which provides food to social service agencies on the Westside of Los Angeles County. 

“People who need food assistance know what’s good and what isn’t but often can’t afford what’s good, so they often have to buy food to get calories rather than to get the nutrition that they need,” Rankin, who has worked with the food bank for more than 30 years, told the Journal at the event. “No one has done more than MAZON to get the food assistance network focused on the full range of nutrition, among many other things.” 

The event also premiered MAZON’s soon-to-be-released digital video experience “This is Hunger,” profiling real people who struggle with hunger, poverty and lack of access to medication. 

“Don’t ever think this can’t happen to you or your family,” one man profiled in the video said, noting that he once had a great job, but “it’s gone and all the things attached to it are gone: health care, life insurance … now I’m stuck here trying to figure out what I’m going to do.”  

“[‘This is Hunger’] evoked a powerful emotional response and clearly strengthened people’s resolve to join with MAZON and make a difference in the lives of others,” Leibman said.

“It was fun and we all ate and had a good time,” Malina told the Journal after the event, “and then the lights go down and you see a seven-minute movie [“This is Hunger”] and it’s staggering seeing the personal face of hunger and looking at the numbers. It’s astounding that we live in a country where 40 million plus are SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients.” 

Photo courtesy of MAZON.

Malina mentioned a clickable map on MAZON’s website (mazon.org) that shows 11.8% of California households are food insecure, and that more than 2 million California households are on SNAP. 

Malina credited his parents, who also attended the event, for being the ones who “first taught me about tikkun olam.” 

Leibman called Malina, a longtime MAZON partner, “a strong voice for those who struggle in our nation. We are so appreciative of his remarkable commitment.” 

Many guests thanked Malina during the event for his work on behalf of MAZON. 

“It’s sweet, thanking me as if I’d done some huge thing,” Malina said. “I came out for two hours, I read from a script, I urged people to buy raffle tickets. … I didn’t do very much, so I try to walk away asking, ‘What more can I do?’ I hope I will continue to get more involved and help MAZON get its message out.” 

“At a moment in our city when food insecurity is so prevalent, when we know that the homeless crisis is ever-growing, being with people I know are doing something actively is not only the right thing to do, it’s necessary,” said Serena Oberstein, a Northridge resident who attended the event. “We all have to dig in and not just watch the crisis grow, but make sure that it stops.”

CORRECTION: A recent version of this story incorrectly reported the amount of money raised. The event raised $100,000.

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