The Do Good Bus glided through the wet streets of Inglewood on a January morning, carrying forty volunteers ranging in age from 15 to 65 to a mystery destination. Only the leader, Rebecca Pontius, and the bus driver knew the destination: to Morningside High School and Bennet-Kew Elementary School for a day of tree planting.
Los Angeles is filled with opportunities for public service -- almost too many, and for many well-intentioned volunteers the choices and logistics are overwhelming. Pontius hopes to change that by making it as easy as meeting friends for lunch through her "Do Good Bus" - a day-long philanthropic plunge with plenty of hands-on activity.
The Do Good Bus passengers bopped off the yellow school bus to the sounds of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and got their orders for the day. The Social Justice Learning Institute partnered with TreePeople to distribute 2000 fruit trees to Inglewood residents. Our group was directed to plant mini-orchards at two elementary schools. The ultimate goal? Create more oases of fresh food in this onetime food desert. It's an ambitious project, and a long-term one. It will be likely three years before these trees drop a plum or nectarine into the hands of an Inglewood resident.
The volunteers around me -- from neighborhoods like Sherman Oaks, Culver City and Pasadena -- are used to lots of choice when it comes to grocery shopping, but that isn't always the case for those who live in low-income areas. According to "The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters," impoverished Los Angeles neighborhoods have fewer supermarkets per household compared to more well-off areas. The stores in poor areas are less likely to stock healthy foods than those in wealthier neighborhoods. Activists call this food justice.
Food justice is the focus of SJLI's 100 Seeds of Change initiative. Through creation of 100 gardens in Inglewood and the South Bay, SJLI sends students and community members home with healthy food after teaching them how to grow and harvest healthy food.
After ten minutes of instruction from a TreePeople volunteer, we slipped on workgloves and grab shovels. Rainclouds vanished to reveal bright blue sky. After a few shovel-fulls of dirt, most of us removed our jackets, warmed by exertion and the brightening sun.
Planting the trees is gratifying, and we stood back to admire our bare branch orchard. A few people took pictures next to their trees, each named in honor of the victims of last month's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Pontius organized a small ceremony after the planting is over. We stood near trees, our arms extended, sending our energy to these fledgling life forms. It was a little hippy dippy but also kind of sweet -- a moment of good karma after more than an hour of hard work. We headed back on the bus for lunch, socializing and a few games, tired but satisfied to have showed up and done something more than watch the Storage Wars marathon on A&E or click through Facebook postings on this Saturday afternoon.
The Do Good Bus will hit Los Angeles streets again each month. Check their web site for the details at http://dogoodbus.com/.