Let’s Grind Out Hunger
What would it be like to provide hunger relief to children in need, provide a stable and safe place for kids with a passion for skateboarding and surfing, and then in turn, create a desire in these kids to pay it forward?
This is the goal of Danny Keith and his team at the non-profit agency Grind Out Hunger in Santa Cruz, California. Summed up in their mission statement: Grind Out Hunger [desires to] empower the youth by utilizing the passion of skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, and music to take leadership in the fight against childhood hunger and malnutrition.
Inside a storefront on busy 41st Avenue, home to O’Neills Surf Shop, Freeline Design Surf Shop, Billabong, and RipCurl, Grind Out Hunger is the new haven for kids between the ages 8-14 who are surrounded by adults who want to take back the youth of our culture. Grind Out Hunger, which is 90% donation supported by local businesses such as Santa Cruz Warriors, Yogurtland, New Leaf, and Black China Bakery, received accolades from the City of Santa Cruz dedicating September 15th as Grind Out Hunger Day 2013, non-profit of the year by The Good Times magazine readers poll, and 2012 Aptos Chamber of Commerce Non-Profit of the Year. It is making a difference in the lives of hungry kids in Santa Cruz County via holiday food drives in schools, the empowerment of students to give back, and by connecting with the local food bank, Second Harvest.
When I walked into Grind Out Hunger, I was immediately met with a feeling of ease, fun, and support. A lounge where young people can hang out in chairs and sofas encompasses one area. Skateboard decks decorated in elaborate designs and colors line the walls. But, most eye-grabbing are the two giant, indoor skateboarding bowls (think X-games and those hilly skateboard ramps), where skateboarders donate a mere three dollars to skateboard, and all in a protective, positive environment.
I sat down with Danny Keith, the director of Grind Out Hunger, and with passion and energy, he described how this unique outreach to Santa Cruz youth came to fruition.
“I grew up in Salinas, where I saw a lot of poverty. My theory is that poverty sticks because it’s understandable and predictable. We need to empower the youth to prevent hunger in addition to feeding people.”
“Back in 2003, when I owned a local surf and skateboard shop, Christine Woodard with Second Harvest put a barrel to collect food for the local food bank. It didn’t mean much to me until I heard the statistic that 1 in 8 children in our community are going hungry. It hit me: if we empower the youth to solve a problem now, we get ahead of the curve and possibly they will not inherit a messed up community.”
With that knowledge, Danny began to work with Second Harvest and local schools, but saw that the problem only worsened.
“The more that I got into the schools and involved with the youth in Santa Cruz, the more that I saw challenges between administration, schools, and hungry kids. In 2009, I felt that I had to go to the frontline, and knew that I had to live life with purpose and passion, and not merely make money.”
He left his business, and soon approached the food bank to improve their social presence, and develop their website. From that point on, Danny succeeded in fulfilling the role of Chief Development and Technology Officer. There he worked with a team of individuals to bring awareness to the general public that 55,000 people a month were relying on Second Harvest’s resources to make ends meet. Continuing to engage the school system and with the youth driving the message, Grind Out Hunger has facilitated1.5 million healthy meals to Second Harvest to feed families. His dream was coming to fruition.
In time, the opportunity arose for Danny to become the Director of Corporate Sponsorships for the D-league basketball team, The Santa Cruz Warriors. He uses his business sense to connect with community members and creates an integrated experience for local organizations including other non-profits.
Grind Out Hunger recognizes local youth and celebrities/athletes who have a passion for fighting hunger, terming them Hunger Fighters. Local and national celebrities such as Top 40 artist Royalty, Chris Rene of The X-Factor, James Durbin of American Idol, and Cruzmatik, have joined in the cause, visiting local schools, and through their music, inspiring kids to raise their awareness in the fight against hunger. At New Brighton middle school, Danny helped the school organize their first food drive where they raised 200 meals. He challenged them to give bigger. The next year, they collected 2200 meals. Then in 2012 the school hit 9000 meals. Hunger Fighter Chris Rene performed at the school assembly to celebrate their valiant efforts and success, and sending the message to kids: you can help your community!
Danny isn’t satisfied with the status quo, though. In his words, “I’m not afraid to shake things up!” His vision for the storefront site is to give the 8-14 year olds of Santa Cruz a location where food literacy, nutrition, and food justice are priorities, and to offer positive role models to help them pursue their passions. In the works are Grind Out Hunger bucks where kids can earn currency for attending a lecture about healthy eating, donating time, or doing a good deed. Plans are also in the works for a media station where kids can use video cameras and technology to learn the art of videotaping skateboard stunts. “Not all children have the resources in their family to use technology, and we hope that through donations and people offering their time, we can develop their interests, and give them opportunities that they may want,” Danny shares.
Grind Out Hunger is making a statement in Santa Cruz County: that nurturing our youth, feeding the hungry, and paying it forward are priorities. “I want to reinforce positive decision making. Remember, you might need help some day.”
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