FEEL LOVE is a celebration of real-life heroes whose stories inspire us. We open the campaign with LaRayia Gaston, founder and executive director of Lunch On Me – a nonprofit charity in Los Angeles and New York providing comfort, positivity, and love through organic meals and holistic healing to those experiencing homelessness. She’s also the owner of LaRayia’s Bodega, a vegan 99-cent store offering healthy food and job training to foster youth and low-income communities.
UGG is proud to donate $50,000 to Lunch On Me. The donation will open a new location and expand their meal program to 10,000+ meals per month. Wearing the Fluff Yeah, meet LaRayia Gaston.
Introduce yourself, what you do, and where we are.
My name is LaRayia Gaston. I’m the founder of Lunch On Me and Love Without Reason, and we’re currently at LaRayia’s Bodega.
Describe a day in the life of LaRayia Gaston.
I feel like life is one long day because it doesn’t ever end. I go to sleep thinking about Love Without Reason, I wake up thinking about our mission, and it’s nonstop. It’s art. It’s radical philanthropy. It’s giving. It’s radical acts of kindness. It’s a way of life. It’s a community.
How do food and activism intersect in your life?
The reason I even got into food is because food is love. No matter where you come from, whatever culture you are, I feel like there are so many celebrations and memories catered around food, down to the holidays. Activism is important because one in six people in America go home to an empty fridge. It’s a radical act of love because it’s really about everyone being nourished and loved, and everyone deserving to break bread together. I feel like it goes back to the basics – in order for us to survive, we have to distribute and share. The activism is speaking up and saying everyone deserves the right to have healthy food, everyone deserves the right to know where their meals are coming from. In a country that’s so abundant, I can’t help but wonder – how can we be silent? How can we not be activists about standing up for people who need, you know?
After founding Lunch On Me, you opened LaRayia’s Bodega in Los Angeles’ Westlake. Tell us about it!
So, it started with food – before that I owned a coffee shop, I’ve been an art director, I’ve done so much just in fashion and industry, and I wanted it to mean more. I wanted my expression, my art to benefit others. That’s why this space was so important to me – because it was a safe space, a place where radical philanthropy matters.
Has public service always been a part of your life?
Yes, public service has always been a part of my life since I was literally fourteen – that’s the first time I ever fed someone who was homeless. I had done this work for ten years because anyone knew I was doing it. It was my form of tithing, and it was my form of giving. I didn’t know it would be my purpose and career in life, but I knew it was something I would always do. It’s been a part of me longer than half my life. I don’t even feel a separation from it – it’s innate at this point.
What’s the greatest challenge facing the homeless community in Los Angeles?
It’s devastating to see so many people who are unloved, and so many people who could help but don’t understand that community. Because this misunderstanding gets in the way, it prevents a lot of change that could happen. So, that’s the challenge – finding people to understand something so they can love it.
What keeps you feeling hopeful, and what motivates your public service?
Knowing I’m making a difference by showing up every day and giving life all that I have. It motivates me because there are micro gestures and moments that happen where a kind act has changed someone’s life. It’s something so simple: by inviting someone to the table who’s never been invited before, those small moments have such an impact on our lives that I don’t think we realize. It’s a collection of these small moments where we can see the bigger picture, where we can see how introducing and exposure can shift the narrative for someone. I’m hopeful because I’m starting to see people be open and invite people to the table that they wouldn’t have before. Those moments allow me to know that there’s a reason we’re pushing, we’re fighting, and when we get a thousand no’s, that one yes really does keep us going. It’s small, but it’s huge.
How do you balance your career, family, and friends during the holidays?
I invite my family, friends, and community to all be a part of my world. Christmas is about giving to one another, giving to strangers, and creating these new traditions that come from acts of kindness to others. It’s breaking from our normal traditions and saying, “hey, why can’t we invite other people and strangers to these intimate settings so they they can experience that same type of family love?” We’ve extended our family to souls that are open and vulnerable, and it’s been really magical. It’s fun because it allows me to give love on steroids – I get to be extra cheesy, extra loving, extra, extra, extra. I just love that because it’s another way to be honorable and giving and radical.
What’s the greatest gift you can give?
The greatest gift I can give is love without reason.