Every December for the past four years, the Little Caesar’s near downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row has received an unexpectedly large order around Christmas time.
Four young adults order a surplus of pizzas ranging from 30 to 90, but it’s not a prank. They’re paid for, picked up and taken a few blocks away to feed the homeless on the streets.
The boys are Santa Clarita residents, and they’ve been doing “Project Pizza” since 2014 to make sure those without homes in downtown L.A. can have a better Christmas.
“When we first did it, we all went to Golden Valley High School at the time,” said Andrew Garcia, 21, who is one of the organizers. “It was a spur-of-the-moment idea where we thought about raising money for the homeless, and doing something during the holidays bigger than ourselves.
“So we went around school collecting what we could in donations,” he said. “I think the first year Project Pizza raised, like, $150.”
Last year’s total was a little larger. Garcia and his friends Ruben Jimenez, Aaron Garcia and Devin Guggenheimer raised a little under $1,300 from community contributions and used the money to distribute 90 pizzas.
The methodology has also changed.
“We were taking Devin’s mom’s Volvo, and last year we raised the most we ever did so we had so much stuff,” Garcia said. “Like blankets, pieces of clothing and the pizza and also water bottles. We couldn’t even fit it in the Volvo, so we had to rent a truck, even!”
This year, their delivery efforts will take place on Dec. 23, Garcia said.
The group starts in the morning and heads south at 11 a.m. Then they’ll pick up the pizzas, get everything set up and begin distributing.
No one knows they are coming, Garcia said, so the group will have the element of surprise on their side as they begin handing out pizzas down the street to hungry folks.
“People will start lining up on the street, take whatever they want, and they’re so appreciative and that’s what makes this worth it,” he said.
Over the years, the team has had help from the community to secure the money to feed even more people. Garcia organized a donation-based workout event with Lululemon at The Training Club gym. This year, the group has worked with College of the Canyons to make videos explaining the cause.
The boys usually begin collecting six weeks before the event, although this year the date coincided with the California Camp and Woolsey fires and Borderline bar shooting, prompting a slight change in the group’s efforts.
“We thought it was inappropriate to ask for donations when something like that was also happening,” he said. “So for a while, we weren’t even sure if we were going to do it. It was really hard to ask people to think about something else in a really tumultuous time.
“But we still continued to get donations,” he said. “And we’re trying to do something that lasts longer than a slice of pizza. Often during the holidays we get caught up in all the bustle. But these people have nothing.”
Garcia said the group’s ideology is, even if they don’t know each homeless individual’s story, they still want to share holiday cheer with them.
That will hopefully outlast the time it takes to enjoy a pizza, he said.
“At least today we can share with them something that will make them smile and let them know there are people thinking about them this holiday season,” he said.