WATTS — The stark images of a homeless encampment near 108th Street and Central Avenue made such an impact on Watts native Darlene Young, she decided to do something about it. She would feed them.
That was the beginning of Sistahs Soul Food Catering.
Young was walking with a friend seven years ago, when she witnessed up close, the suffering homeless men, women and children faced, many living in tents set up beside a drainage basin.
“We came back and started feeding people,” she said.
She hasn’t stopped since. Each year Young serves those in need at her annual “Feeding Our Friends Outside Dinner.”
In time, she decided to find out for herself the experiences of her new friends.
“I stayed in a homeless shelter for four nights and I realized that there was a need for someone to help,” Young said.
She recalls meeting a homeless registered nurse while staying in the shelter.
“She had no spirit. She just gave up,” Young said.
The experience made the soul-food caterer more determined than ever to do everything in her power to cater to the needs of this often overlooked population, and to give them something to be thankful for during the holidays.
“I want people to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and get back out there,” she said.
As a former restaurant owner in Long Beach, Young enlisted the help of community organizations, city officials and volunteers to support her mission to feed the homeless and hungry.
“To be able to be there for a person feels good,” said volunteer Sean Pleasant. “People just want to support this thing. [The beneficiaries] enjoy it as much as you can enjoy something in their situation.”
Young started the annual event at the Harrison-Ross Mortuary, then eventually moved it to a church after concerns about the location surfaced.
“That wasn’t a good look,” Young said.
Because she wanted to keep the event close to Central Avenue, near the homeless camps, she contacted the late Rev. Reginald M. Leffall III, who agreed to host the meal at Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church at 11328 S. Central Ave., where it remains.
According to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center, an estimated 254,000 men, women and children experience homelessness in Los Angeles County during some part of the year and approximately 82,000 people are homeless on any given night.
Statistics show that 30 percent of the represented homeless have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Reasons for homelessness include unemployment, mental illness, physical disability and drug abuse.
The study indicates that African Americans make up approximately half of Los Angeles County’s homeless population.
“We need help for these people,” Young said. “The shelters only help at certain times, so the homeless walk the streets from about 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. At this time of year, they need support,” she said.
Volunteers serving Sistah Soul Food’s Thanksgiving meal at 2 p.m. Nov. 12 will dish up chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner rolls, salad and macaroni and cheese.
Those in need will also receive toiletries and resource information during the event and security will be on hand.
For information, or to volunteer and support the event, contact (310) 981-6377.