Ryan Rossow was just a child the first time he witnessed food insecurity.
The Manhattan Beach native was volunteering with his father at a soup kitchen in Downtown Los Angeles when a homeless man he had seen earlier in the day came in to receive a meal.
“Just the smile on his face when he was poured even that minuscule cup of soup. That was just a spark,” Rossow remembered.
The 17-year-old is now president of a nonprofit titled the South Bay Food Initiative that pairs local high schoolers and volunteers with agencies such as the Los Angeles Food Bank to help tackle what Rossow explains is a growing concern.
“Because of the large amount of homelessness in LA, food insecurity is a major problem,” he said. “We found out that 1.4 million individuals suffer from not having a meal when they go home or not being able to sustain health and nutritional value throughout their day.”
Rossow, a rising senior at Mira Costa High School, started the Initiative at the school with a few friends during his sophomore year.
Since then, the small club has blossomed into a 50-plus member organization that donated 800 lbs. of food and $500 to the L.A. Food Bank, the largest regional food bank in the area, within the last month.
Rossow said the organization, which includes students from “feeder” clubs at other local high schools—no pun intended—holds at least one event per month, if not more, from food sorting to soup kitchen volunteering.
The group recently volunteered with Shared Bread—a Redondo Beach venture that cooks dinners for the hungry and homeless. They also donated $200 to Project Soup Kitchen, a growing nonprofit in Culver City.
“Just the look in the organizers’ eyes when she received that money. I mean it was priceless just to know that even more people can be helped now. It makes my day to see something like that,” Rossow said.
For the lifetime humanitarian who grew up with volunteerism as a core aspect of his upbringing, the reality of his graduation next year isn’t stopping the youth from continuing his legacy.
“I’m working on a succession plan because obviously I’m not going to have a much time to be hands-on with the organization as I am right now,” explained Rossow, who aspires to go into the medical field. “I do want it to continue to grow and prosper more than anything because I believe it can make a really big difference in the community if more people are committed to solving food insecurity in the area.”
Part of the succession plan includes getting word out about South Bay Food Initiative and keeping a steady flow of volunteers, he added.
He said no professional experience is required.
“We just love the help.”