For six friends from Santa Clarita, the gift of kindness forms their bond. Together, they travel 46 miles to pick up their phoned-in pizza order.
It’s a bit far for a typical order, but retrieving a steaming stack of 200 cheesy pepperoni pies from a downtown Los Angeles pizzeria is anything but typical.
“It’s double what we ordered last year,” said Ruben Jimenez. The 21-year-old returned Sunday to the same Little Caesars shop on the 1900 block of San Pedro Street he’s frequented since his senior year of high school.
The group walked inside the store and passed on their order information to a cashier peering at them between two stacks of orange cardboard pizza boxes.
“It’s the one day a year where no matter what we’ve got going on, my best friends and I, we all come together to do something bigger than ourselves,” said Andrew Garcia.
The Saugus High School alumnus joined the group, affectionately dubbed “Project Pizza,” during its second year.
“We’re going to head out to Skid Row and roam through the streets of Los Angeles and just find some people who are in need,” Garcia said.
What began as a project in 2015 between friends at Golden Valley High School to put food into the hands of the less fortunate living on the streets of Los Angeles has doubled year after year.
“We racked up our change and we got about 15 boxes our first year, something humble and it’s progressed after that,” Jimenez said.
Project Pizza, which is solely funded by donations from a GoFundMe account, saw a significant increase in attention over the last two years, he said.
“People took notice to the cause and they gave us their change as well and it’s just been multiplying ever since,” Jimenez said.
Each year, the friends set out to give meaning to the holiday season and moreover send a reminder to those who call the streets of Skid Row home: “We’re not leaving you behind.”
“Oftentimes, during the holidays I think we get caught up in so much receiving and we don’t do enough giving. I think a gift of the heart, that’s the best gift that anybody can give,” Garcia said.
After playing a bit of Tetris needed to fit and secure the 200 boxes of pizza in the back of a rented nondescript Ford F-150 pickup truck, the group hit the streets.
Within minutes, the truck reached San Julian Street, a location of Los Angeles known for being one of the highest concentrated areas of homeless people in the nation.
Instantly, the vehicle was surrounded by people seeking a cheesy snack.
“The people coming to give free food, I think are good people,” said Cesar Solorzano. The man frequents Skid Row and considers himself a “volunteer extraordinaire” at the Rotary House, a holistic shelter focused on helping transients overcome addiction and unemployment.
Jimenez said his connection with Skid Row stems from a history of family members finding themselves out of options and taking shelter on the streets of Los Angeles.
“I figured if my family can end up here, anybody’s family can,” he said.
The group said their booming presence is a subtle gesture to make the area feel less like a last resort and more like home.
“They have a heart, they don’t judge,” said Lilany Togisala, a woman who called 5th Street her home.
More than 1,600 slices of pizza and several hundred water bottles were served to about 800 people before the sun disappeared behind the metropolitan skyscrapers and yielded to the moon.
But for Jimenez and Garcia, it’s not about the pizza. They consider themselves stewards who just happen to dish out “slices of love.”
“It’s really amazing what we can do when we all work together and we think beyond ourselves,” Garcia said. “Such a micro contribution makes a macro difference.”