November 21, 2018

Bruce Rosen: Driven by a desire to combat hunger

Bruce Rosen has worked in investment for more than three decades. On a recent Friday afternoon, he was dressed the part: dark tie, square glasses, Fitbit and suit slacks. 

During most “market hours” — 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday — Rosen, 57, manages his investment advisory firm. Much of the rest of his time, though, is spent advising, directing and building nonprofit and charity programs.

In business, as in charity, he’s fond of three guiding principles: efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability, as he explained during an hourlong interview at Kehillat Israel, the Pacific Palisades Reconstructionist synagogue where he’s a member. That means “not wasting money, not overspending” (efficiency), “better delivering your services or the benefit you provide to your clients” (effectiveness) and “diversifying your revenue stream” (sustainability).

Rosen’s career as a professional giver began and accelerated rapidly in 1990, when he found a People Assisting the Homeless food pantry in the Los Angeles Times classified ads and started to volunteer. The pantry frequently ran out of food, something Rosen found absurd in opulent West L.A. 

So he walked to the nearby Trader Joe’s at Westwood and National boulevards to ask if the store could donate. It worked. “Can you pick it up?” the manager responded. Rosen tried it again at a nearby Mrs. Gooch’s market. Again, it worked.

“So now I’m picking up food almost every day, right?” he said. “Trader Joe’s every other day and Mrs. Gooch’s every other day, and I decided, ‘Oh, so I’m giving the food and everyone’s hugging me and saying, ‘Thank you’ and ‘God bless you.’ And like, wow! You know, nobody ever hugs me and says, ‘God bless you.’ So I’m going to find more food. … I started soliciting aggressively: markets, restaurants, bakeries, delis, caterers.”

By 1995, Rosen commanded a staff of 50 volunteers, mostly recruited from Kehillat Israel, distributing about a million pounds of food a year to 35 charitable agencies. 

His creation was becoming too big for him to handle alone. So he passed it along to the Westside Food Bank, where he remains a board member.

That was hardly his exit from the charity world. He had become familiar with, and fascinated by, nonprofits that create jobs and job-training programs for hard-to-employ individuals, such as ex-convicts or psychologically scarred veterans. He used his business smarts to advise them pro bono.

Since then, he has continued to advise nonprofits on a paid and unpaid basis, serving as interim director and program director for various charities. “When I find organizations I like, I bond with them,” he said.

These days, Rosen’s volunteer work revolves around his love for growing. He started a fruit and vegetable garden at the Heroes Golf Course at the West L.A. Veterans Affairs campus, and still helps harvest the produce on occasion. He’s working with the Westside Food Bank to get free, fresh produce for veterans. 

At Kehillat Israel, he runs a program called Fruit for a Cause, which offers edible centerpieces in lieu of normal flower arrangements for bar and bat mitzvahs. The fruit is then donated to the food bank.

Kehillat Israel is a breeding ground for charitable projects, Rosen said, pointing to three philanthropic clubs started by members. It’s the chance to work in and for his community that truly inspires him.

“I talk about all the business stuff, like being effective and efficient and sustainable and successful and costs and expenses and revenues,” he said.

“But this whole thing was just inspired by community. I really get tremendous satisfaction out of being able to make my community better.”