Wednesday, 30 April 2014 19:58

30 Days of Made | Day 30: Hashtag Lunchbag

30 Days of Made // April 30, 2014

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Giving Back." In an effort to create social change, each day we will highlight one charity or non-profit organization, and provide information on how you can support them by giving back. Click here to read more!

We made it! Day 30 of our 30 Days of Made: Giving Back! It’s been a month’s worth of inspiration, learning about the change being created around the world by caring individuals. Equally inspiring has been talking to a whole different niche of entrepreneurs, those in the nonprofit sector. People like our Made Woman of the Month, Keren Taylor who started WriteGirl—an organization which uses writing to prepare young girls for college. On the last day of our initiative, I got the chance to talk to another one of these entrepreneurs. Ajay Relan is an L.A. based go-getter, who in the midst of running a few businesses (including the Parlor, a Westside favorite) started the social media version of “pay it forward”: Hashtag Lunchbag.

If you hadn’t heard, Hashtag Lunchbag is made up of pockets of people give back in an easy and fun way. Ajay started it all here in L.A. but it has since spread to other cities. Their “giving back” story starts off the way most do, with a group of friends who want to do something small but significant. Check out the interview below:

What inspired you to start Hashtag Lunchbag?

Hashtag Lunchbag started on Christmas 2012, with a group of us just in our living room. A buddy of mine and I have an apartment here in L.A. We were looking for a way to give back, and in true L.A. fashion we kind of procrastinated a little bit with all the planning. Another friend of ours—whenever she would get down, she would just lift someone else up. She would prepare a small amount of lunches and go to the Santa Monica beach and pier by herself and pass them out. She would share her experience on Facebook and it was always an inspiration for us.

What was your role in starting the nonprofit?

Christmas is a day people typically think to get involved or volunteer and do something outside themselves, so that’s kind of what we did. Basically, I went to the grocery store and bought a hundred lunches worth of food. And it was a kick-ass meal that I would have been totally stoked to get as a seventh-grader: sandwich, fruit snacks, fruit, Capri-Suns, chips, some Hersey’s Kisses. We went back home, put on some music, popped a little bottle of champagne—some of our friends were over—and we just got to making sandwiches. And over the course of the morning, we had gotten some phone calls —typical “Merry Christmas” calls—and sooner or later we had five people in the living room and we were all just having a good time. If there is anything we know how to do it’s have a good time. We made a hundred lunches, wrote little Christmas notes on the bag themselves, went down to the pier and passed them out.

#HashtagLunchbag: All Around The World - June 2013 from #HashtagLunchbag on Vimeo.

MW: That’s awesome. How has social media help spread the word about Hashtag Lunchbag?

In today’s fashion, you share what you are doing on social media. At the time I had just started my Instagram, but some of the other guys already had a pretty substantial following. So, everyone shared what we did—posted photos and videos. We just called it Hashtag Lunchbag, primarily because it rhymed…We always made fun of hashtags and how people just misuse them all the time. We got all this narley feedback—calls, text, likes, comments. People were like “Omg, I’ve never heard of this thing. Let me know when you do it next time.” And we were like “We aren’t a thing, we are just some guys trying to do something good.” So, we decided that we did have a good time and we did want to do it again. We ran it back a month later, at the end of January. We thought we would have like ten people at our house. We made double the lunches we had the first time and we did the same exact thing, except this time one of the guys shot a very short, GoP­ro video. And we put it up on YouTube. Someone in our network retweeted it and they had a hundreds of thousands of followers. So we thought we should probably build a website, just in case. So we put it up, just our story and then as a step by step guide on how you could do it yourself.

MW: What encouraged you to continue doing this on top of all our other projects?

Well, we got a ton of feedback again and we decided to do it again. So February, the following month, happened to be my birthday, and I own a restaurant/bar in West Hollywood. So I thought, let’s just do this for my birthday. I said this is what I want to do, I want to do is set this crazy goal of making a thousand of these things, let’s see how many people we can get to come out, and then we’ll just go down to skid row, because that’s where the need is. Long story short we had about a hundred people show up. A hundred people with various followings all shared it with their networks. And the rest is history.

MW: How many cities are you guys in now?

Now we are in over 76 cities all over the world… We filed for a 501(c)(3), and become an official nonprofit organization, called the Living Through Giving Foundation. We like rhyme over here. On the surface, it’s kind of a happy accident. As much as it is about feeding homeless people at the core of it, what we really have found is a simple and fun way for people to organize a small community wherever they are, and do something that is outside of our daily routine. And that creates gratitude for what we do have. It just makes life a lot more beautiful.

MW: What brands or companies have you partnered with?

We just shot a national campaign with Wells Fargo, in collaboration with their new mobile app that will be live in a couple weeks. That’s our first corporate sponsorship, with a few more that have kind of popped up.

MW: How often do you host the local events?

We here in LA— the home team, if you will—host our events the last Sunday of every single month. And we’ve done that every month since 2012. That’s kind of like the platform that re-ignites our momentum, even though there are several movements: there are several churches that host their own Hashtag Lunchbag events. A monthly event every second weekend in Leimert Park. New York has several groups—they are a flagship, Phoenix has a huge following, San Diego, Vancouver, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta. All these cities have consistently been a part of it. No matter how big or small, our goal is to be in every minute, of every day, everywhere; until an issue like hunger no longer exists.

Show your support for Hashtag Lunchbag!

Published in Current
Tuesday, 29 April 2014 20:09

30 Days of Made | Day 29: Kate's Club

30 Days of Made // April 29, 2014

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Giving Back." In an effort to create social change, each day we will highlight one charity or non-profit organization, and provide information on how you can support them by giving back. Click here to read more!

About a year ago, a close friend invited me to spend Saturday morning volunteering with her at Kate's Club. When she told me about the organization, I was hesitant about working with grieving children. However, I was impressed with the upbeat, energetic atmosphere of the clubhouse. The issue of childhood grief resonates with me because I lost my father at the age of seven and can empathize with children in this situation. I understand the desire to enjoy being a kid and relate to peers, but feeling a little different and not knowing how to cope with the loss of a parent.                                


Kate's Club Video from Rachel Ezzo on Vimeo.

Kate's Club is an Atlanta based non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting children who are coping with the death of a parent or sibling. Kate Atwood, the founder of the organization, lost her mother to cancer at the age of 12. Kate's desire to provide a safe place for grieving children to play and express their feelings about the death of their loved ones inspired her to start Kate's Club in 2003. The program consists of a clubhouse where kids can enjoy arts and crafts, interactive games and therapeutic group activities including yoga, art and dance. Club members also participate in quarterly field trips and an annual summer camp.  Kate's Club started with Kate, six kids and their families in 2003. Today, the organization has served more than 500 children and their families with the support of a well trained staff, licensed counselors and 100 volunteers.

Support Kate’s Club

Volunteering with Kate's Club was such a great experience. I really enjoy helping children boost their confidence and have fun. To learn more about Kate's Club and how you can support this unique organization, please visit Or use the buttons below!

Published in Current

30 Days of Made // April 28, 2014

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Giving Back." In an effort to create social change, each day we will highlight one charity or non-profit organization, and provide information on how you can support them by giving back. Click here to read more!

Life is hard – and adding a physical disability on top of life challenges can be too much for some. But instead of tapping out, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) helps those with physical challenges to stay active. With organized sports and various funding programs, the organization has set out to show its athletes that having a disability doesn’t mean life is over. The organization recognizes the inherent athletic greatness in everyone and works to increase the self-esteem and quality of life for all participants.

I can’t imagine the strength it takes for someone with a disability to play through all the challenges and discomforts involved in become a fierce competitor. Leaving behind any self-doubts and limitations, over 8,200 athletes around the world have taken part in CAF’s programs in the last twenty years. “Through our work, we have helped change the perception of what an athlete is, and who an athlete can be.” It is truly inspiring to see someone who has lost so much turn it around and become a hero. 


The organization has five different programs -- Access for Athletes, Operation Rebound, Catching a Rising Star, Reach High and Project N.E.X.T. Access for Athletes provides funding and equipment for people who are interested in sports. Athletes can apply for grants and receive things like special wheelchairs, handcycles, mono skis and sports prosthetics. Operation Rebound supports military personnel and veterans with permanent disabilities. Catch a Rising Star, Reach High and Project N.E.X.T. offer sports clinics, community outreach and mentoring to disabled athletes. CAF offers so many opportunities for participants to join in, set goals, and show the world what they can do.

The programs that CAF offers are much needed. The loss of an arm or a leg is a tragedy but it doesn’t have to be the end of a healthy, productive and independent lifestyle. By providing a sense of community and allowing challenged athletes to rise to the occasion, CAF is changing lives. Twenty-three year old Denise Castelli, who is a below the knee amputee describes, “It's hard to believe that not even a year ago I was laying in a hospital bed without my limb not knowing where to turn next. I'm incredibly appreciative that I now know so many people in the athletic community who face the same challenges that I do.”

Support The Challenged Athletes Foundation!

There are tons of ways to support the Challenged Athletes Foundation, including participating in a 5k or a fundraising event. To get more information use the buttons below. You can also tweet at them at @CAFoundation.

Published in Current

30 Days of Made // April 27, 2014

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Giving Back." In an effort to create social change, each day we will highlight one charity or non-profit organization, and provide information on how you can support them by giving back. Click here to read more!

“Women are not vulnerable; we are put into vulnerable situations…. If we want to achieve economic development, we need to invest in grassroots women's leadership. To strengthen our community and have access, control, and ownership of land and other important resources."

Marling Haydee Rodriguez, President of Las Brumas Union of Women Farmer Cooperatives, Jinotega, Nicaragua

The Huairou Commission is a global movement of women, working together to empower and make their voices heard. We are a coalition of grassroots women’s groups, community-based and non-governmental organizations in more than 50 countries that believes better policies result when women expand their participation and leadership in the issues that affect their daily lives.

Female leaders in the Huairou Commission are on the front lines of activism around the most pressing development issues in their communities, including land and housing rights, natural disasters, resilience building, food security, climate change, HIV/AIDS, safe public spaces, sustainable organization, transparent and accountable governance, economic empowerment and gender equality. One leader, Theresa Makwara, of Zimbabwe’s Parents of Handicapped Children Association, describes the impact this organization makes, "Huairou is playing a pivotal role by enhancing the lives of women and their visibility at global level. This has also made us see the potential of our leadership with [its] great support."


Recognize, Prioritize, Formalize Grassroots Caregivers from Huairou Commission on Vimeo.

Through building strategic partnerships and linking members with each other, the Huairou Commission supports grassroots women’s groups to influence local, national and global policy priorities on behalf of their communities.

We build deep relationships among members, creating a culture of shared values and mutual respect across nationalities, ethnicities, races, classes and religions. The Huairou Commission holds consultative status with the UN and actively participates in UN conferences and deliberations.

Click below to get involved!

Published in Current
Saturday, 26 April 2014 19:27

30 Days of Made | Day 26: Dress for Success

30 Days of Made // April 26, 2014

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Giving Back." In an effort to create social change, each day we will highlight one charity or non-profit organization, and provide information on how you can support them by giving back. Click here to read more!

When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of creating a business that would help underprivileged women make their way back into the workforce. I'm a girly girl at heart, so I envisioned it as a place they'd come get a fly outfit, a makeover and be cheered on as they set out to go conquer the world.

Luckily, unlike my 12-year-old self, the people at Dress for Success realize that there is so much more involved in empowering women to re-enter the workforce. Over the last 17 years, they have worked to build a variety of programs that support promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women. Sure, providing professional attire is an element of this -- but the game-changer is the network of support and career development tools that help women thrive in work and in life.


I was able to touch base with Eunice Liriano, VP of Marketing & Communications in the New York office, and she shed additional insight. She told me about YES (Young Executives for Success), where young executives can serve as ambassadors -- going out into the community to rally people to donate and give back. She spearheads initiatives like the upcoming (5th Annual) Dress for Success Power Walk with spokesperson and businesswoman Bethenny Frankel. The walk has grown over the last five years, and now takes place in five countries, and over thirty cities! Click here to see if your city is on the list:

Reena De Asis -- Director of West Coast Operations -- passionately explained, “At Dress for Success, we help women go from surviving to thriving. We believe that “self-sufficiency” is more than just a suit or a job -- it’s an overall commitment to being independent in all aspects of life. We want the resilient women we serve to not only secure a job, but to also dream big and reach her full potential. We want her to take pride that she’s a 'Made Woman!' After all, 'The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.' -Eleanor Roosevelt

Click below to get involved!

Published in Current

30 Days of Made // April 25, 2014

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Giving Back." In an effort to create social change, each day we will highlight one charity or non-profit organization, and provide information on how you can support them by giving back. Click here to read more!

When I decided to get a divorce over seven years ago my family was not supportive, so I felt alone, isolated, and disconnected from the world. I lacked the support that I needed at such a transitional period in my life, so I decided to do something about it. My personal need to connect and  my entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and I founded Women Empowered (WE) in 2008. The group initially began as a social support group. I simply wanted to make friends.  What started out so small began to grow rapidly. Women were learning about us through word of mouth and social media. Two years later, I decided to make WE more real and tangible and formed it into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.   

Currently, I am the Founder and CEO and oversee the organization, fundraisers, and events , among other things. I wear many hats, so my day-to-day operations are always different, which makes for an exciting role. I love it because I am constantly being challenged. But more importantly, I love Women Empowered because it stemmed from such a personal space and other women got involved. Our membership base is so diverse. Women from all walks of life join our organization and all have one common goal, that is, to support other women. It’s really what makes us stand out from the rest of the organizations out there. The diversity and very hands-on approach to our volunteer work is unique and makes me so proud. We are also very personable. I’m from New York, so what you see is what you get. Thus, this motto is the foundation of the organization.  

The majority of our members are either entrepreneurs or are aspiring to be, and also include students and professional women. We host events that facilitate relationship building among our members, empower them, as well as foster their growth professionally and personally. Our programming and events are geared towards educating, connecting, and supporting women. Such events include professional networking mixers, personal development workshops, and panels on various topics. We also provide mentorship to at-risk teen girls in Boyle Heights, host volunteer days at the Downtown Women’s Center, and conduct health and fitness activities and workshops.  We aim to inspire our members to give back to their communities through our group mentoring activities with our mentees.  

As mentioned, I initially began the group to make friends. But what makes this group even more special to me is watching the growing friendship among the other members.  Seeing them collaborate outside of the group brings me so much joy. I cannot explain the feeling I get when I walk into a room at one of our events and watch the connections being made, the support given, and the smiles on everyone’s face. As humans, we innately are social beings, but to be able to facilitate those relationships is what I absolutely love about what I do. And to add on to that, our mentoring program holds a near-and-dear place in my heart. I personally mentor two young girls and to be able to make an impact in a young girl’s life is the most impactful way to truly  give back. It is how you make someone feel that goes a long way. So as a whole, our organization’s mission is  not only to empower our members, but to inspire them to give back to their communities.  And this is why I love WE! 

Support Women Empowered!

Show your support for Women Empowered using the buttons below. Or tweet at them at @WELosAngeles!

Shelly Ulaj is the Founder and CEO of Women Empowered, a nonprofit organization that educates, connects, and supports women of all ages and backgrounds, and inspires them to give back to their communities through mentorship, networking, and volunteerism.   Shelly is passionate about giving back and making a true impact in the lives of others, and as a result of her own personal need to connect with others, she found her calling as a nonprofit leader.  In addition to running and overseeing the organization, Shelly is a also a mentor to two young women.  Shelly is also a contributor to the Huffington Post, and has written articles for the Los Angeles Business Journal, Zocalo Public Square, The Daily Beast, and other publications.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and has also earned her law degree. 

Published in Current
Tuesday, 22 April 2014 01:19

30 Days of Made | Day 22: Youth Radio

30 Days of Made // April 21, 2014 

The entry below is by 14 year-old Bianca Brooks, who describes her experience as a member of Youth Radio’s newsroom:

I search for the light switch on the wall, because the room is eerily pitch black and silent. When I find it, I nervously make my way over to the grey swivel chair that sits before the microphone and reading mount. I place my state-of-the-art headphones atop my then 14-year old fro, and attempt to breathe before uttering the words I would soon be so well known for. The lights above the outside door flash “Quiet Please” and the light attached to my microphone turns crimson red, as I speak almost in a whisper, “For Youth Radio, I’m Bianca Brooks.”

That was the moment I found my voice. In the recording studio of the second floor of the brick building on the corner of 17th and Broadway in Oakland, California, I found out who I was. I became a storyteller of non-fiction prose, a talk radio news poet who made sense of the world by serving up the issues with the objectivity of John Burns, the narrative smoothness of Vin Scully, and a wit all my own.

I speak for the women in the sweatshops of Bangladesh. I speak for the students of color underrepresented in the AP system. I speak for women who choose not to wear brassieres, and I even speak at the defense of young Republicans who really have better intentions than MSNBC often portrays. But most of all, I speak for myself. I sit in the studio and summon up the 10 year old hellion inside me. I channel that same girl, whose mouth moves quicker than her mind, who will never be satisfied with answers she doesn't find for herself, who somehow between all the shaming and calls for silence still leans in, clears her throat, and says loudly and proudly, "For Youth Radio, I'm Bianca Brooks."

As a Peabody Award-winning, youth-driven media production company, they deliver the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a wide audience. Youth Radio was developed as a two part journalism organization: a community-based media education program teaching journalism skills and producing content, and a production company that publishes and distributes that content. The innovation lab integrates journalism and programming to design new tools -- such as mobile apps -- to tell dynamic stories about issues affecting young people and their communities. Youth Radio stories run regularly on NPR, PRI, American Public Media, PBS, National Geographic, The Huffington Post, The CBS Network and other digital and broadcast outlets worldwide.

Learn More About Youth Radio & Give Back!

If you want to support journalism and young minds with a program like Youth Radio, use the buttons below to give back and join in! You can also tweet at them @youthradio.

Published in Current

30 Days of Made // April 21, 2014

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Giving Back." In an effort to create social change, each day we will highlight one charity or non-profit organization, and provide information on how you can support them by giving back. Click here to read more!

Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin! There are so many reasons why I love Best Friends Animal Society and their mission to ensure that there are no more Homeless Pets.

Animal advocacy and promoting pet adoption is something that I have been involved with since I was in high school. After several years of volunteering for animal shelters and rescue groups, I began to hear more and more about Best Friends and all the strides they were making in the animal rescue and advocacy community.

Best Friends Animal Society was founded in 1984 by a group of people who began rescuing so-called “unadoptable” animals from shelters to help combat the large number of animals being euthanized in shelters each year – 17 million, to be exact. Best Friends is now the only national animal welfare organization focused exclusively on ending the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters. Currently, over 9,000 dogs and cats are killed in shelters EVERY SINGLE DAY – isn’t that number sad and astounding? However, through their efforts and partnerships with rescue groups and shelters around the country, they have helped to reduce the number of animals killed in shelters from 17 million per year to around 4 million.

Best Friends is hard at work on so many wonderful initiatives that continue to help bring down these euthanasia numbers. Nationally, they have initiatives that focus primarily on the animals that are most likely to enter the shelter system – pit-bull-terrier-type dogs, cats and castoffs from puppy mills. They also have local programs in Los Angeles, New York and Utah (which happens to be Best Friends’ home state) to help provide on-the-ground support for their efforts.  In addition to their national and local programs, they also stage super adoptions in cities across the country and offer spay/neuter programs – both of these particular initiatives are key components in reducing the amount of animals in our shelters.

These are all of Best Friends’ major initiatives and goals, but I really don’t feel like I’ve done them justice. What I’ve mentioned here only scratches the surface! There are so many wonderful things they are doing and there are countless ways in which you, yes, YOU, can get involved. For starters, if you are an Angeleno, there is a Super Adoption taking place at the La Brea Tar Pits May 3-4 from 10am-5pm. You can volunteer, donate, adopt, or simply come out to show your support. I volunteer at this event, so I hope to see you there! For more information, visit:

If you love cats and dogs this is the org for you!

When you are thinking of adding a furry friend to your family, please consider adopting from your local animal shelter or rescue group. There are many wonderful animals, in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages and breeds that are looking for their loving, forever home! And you can signup to volunteer or donate using the buttons below! Follow @BestFriends on Twitter!


Kea Meyers Duggan is a 16-year marketing veteran who has worked in a variety of industries, servicing high-profile global companies, and has also owned her own company. However, her true love is non-profit animal causes. Over the last 18 years, Kea has volunteered, in a wide range of capacities, with several animal shelters and rescue groups. Additionally, she recently served as the event chair for the Guide Dogs for the Blind's Orange County Friends Committee (OCFC) biennial luncheon. As event chair, she spearheaded the planning and execution of the most successful fundraising event in the OCFC's history.

Published in Current

30 Days of Made // April 19, 2014

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Giving Back." In an effort to create social change, each day we will highlight one charity or non-profit organization, and provide information on how you can support them by giving back. Click here to read more!

There is nothing scarier than the possibility of having a deadly disease. What’s even scarier is when the disease is a silent killer and we don’t even realize that our lifestyle is a potential cause.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women -- it is more deadly than all forms of cancer-- with one in three women dying from it each year. However, it does not affect every woman the same way. There are many symptoms, like lightheadedness or jaw pain, which people do not at first associated with heart disease. There are also many myths surrounding heart disease; such as, it only affects older people. However, people of all ages can be affected by heart attack or stroke. Yes, even a 19-year-old who seems completely healthy runs a risk of having cardiovascular disease if she is not living a healthy lifestyle. Since women are more likely to be affected than men, it is important that we understand what heart disease is, and how we can prevent or treat it.  


Go Red for Women is a sub-organization of the American Heart Association which aims to fight heart disease. According to their website, in the past ten years, “More than 627,000 women have been saved from heart disease.” This is due in large part to the amount of awareness that Go Red for Women has brought to the disease, as well as the donations that go to research. So far Go Red for Women has raised over $36 million dollars to end heart disease.

Help Put An End To Heart Disease!

There are many ways to get involved with Go Red for Women, including joining a study to help end heart disease, donating, and participating in events that bring awareness to the cause.

Published in Current
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 18:19

30 Days Of Made | Day 18: Playworks

30 Days of Made // April 18, 2014

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Giving Back." In an effort to create social change, each day we will highlight one charity or non-profit organization, and provide information on how you can support them by giving back. Click here to read more!

When California public schools started cutting recess and physical education programs from their itineraries due to budget cuts, they couldn’t staff recess and/or no longer had time for it. I knew that I had to figure out a way to help local youth receive the physical activity they need to grow into mentally and physically fit young adults. Then, somebody introduced me to Playworks and I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who was thinking about bringing recess back.

Playworks started at an Oakland, California, elementary school that didn’t have the resources to provide organized activities at recess. At that particular school, even children who would not be considered “behaviorally problematic” were getting into trouble. After all, recess in elementary schools is the period when children develop their conflict resolutions skills. Without professional guidance, children were unable to relieve their frustration in a productive fashion, which wasn’t just a problem at this school. Jill Vialet, Playworks’ CEO and Founder, was then inspired to bring professionally trained activity leaders into the picture. Their programs now exist in 20 states across the United States.

Play Works from Playworks on Vimeo.

According to Playworks, they are “the only nonprofit organization in the country providing trained, full-time coaches focused on recess to hundreds of low-income schools in major urban areas.”

Playworks coaches facilitate play with various games and activities to provide children with some rules, which promotes inclusivity and fun. They “believe in the power of play to bring out the best in every kid. Playworks creates a place for every kid on the playground -- a place where every kid belongs, has fun and is part of the game.” This drastically reduces problems from bullying and disciplinary issues in the schoolyard.

Love Playworks! Give Back!

Want to see how you can affect our youth? Get involved by volunteering or help fund the cause! Use the buttons below! You can also follow them on Twitter at @Playworks!


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