Weiner’s customer LA Family Housing understands how important basic necessities are for people grappling with homelessness. Since 1983, the organization has been offering shelter, supplies and services to homeless populations.
We asked Melody Jaramillo, Director of Community Engagement at LA Family Housing, to tell us more about the organization’s mission and how thoughtful hospitality helps those most in need.
What is your mission?
Our mission is to help people move out of poverty and homelessness with a continuum of shelter and support. We’re real estate developers as well, so we can provide temporary or permanent housing and offer services to help people stay independent.
The combination of real estate and support services is unique in the space, and we serve about 11,000 people each year in Los Angeles County. Because the county is so large and different locales have unique needs, we’ve set up six different service planning areas.
What are your biggest challenges?
To begin with, the challenge of homelessness in Los Angeles is huge. There are almost 60,000 people experiencing homelessness right now.
And that doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands living at the poverty line. These people must decide between buying food or paying rent, and they could easily fall into homelessness at any point.
At LA Family Housing, we must figure out how best to serve everyone we can. We look for the best areas to build housing and ensure that we’re helping people in a dignified manner.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
In the first place, I get to be a part of people’s journey. We’re all in this together, just trying to make it. And it’s one of the greatest stories of my life to be able to be a part of their solution.
Secondly, I love being able to educate the general public. The people who experience homelessness are just like you and me and everybody else. There’s a lot of stigma associated with homelessness. The population is severely marginalized. So I really enjoy the chance to break down those barriers and demystify the stigmas.
Why did you become a Weiner’s customer?
Many homeless service agencies focus on a single population at a single point in their journey, such as veterans who need immediate crisis shelter. But we support all different types of populations, including LGBT youth, elderly, families and individuals.
All these groups have different needs. Some people need hygiene items; some need baby items; some need a combination of both. We were looking for a partner to help us serve everyone.
We were also looking for a company who could ship in volume. Being able to order in large quantities is important to us because, as a non-profit, we need to report on everything we purchase, so it saves us administrative costs to get most of what we need in one or two shipments. Plus, when a big delivery comes in, we can quickly unload it and get it out to the community.
What do you like about working with Weiner’s?
I did a lot of research, and because we’re a non-profit, sometimes companies don’t take us seriously. Even if we’re spending upwards of $40,000, they don’t return calls or respond to emails.
But I found Wiener’s on Google and talked with Kevin, our sales associate. He was so respectful and willing to meet us as a partner. In our first experience, Weiner’s was responsive, timely and cognizant of our needs. Plus, they were able to turn around a very large purchase in a short time with stipulations around shipping and receiving.
From that first great customer experience, I changed every other purchaser in our program to go with Weiner’s, and now three of our departments buy solely from Weiner’s.
What kinds of products do you order from Weiner’s?
We order products that can help us support and engage with people experiencing homelessness. For example, our first order included basic hygiene items, light food supplies and blankets that we put together into general support bags for people sleeping out on the streets, under freeways or on the sidewalks.
(Actually, Weiner’s doesn’t carry blankets, but Kevin searched high and low to find us some!)
These supplies help us build trust with people so we can bring them into shelter and then on to permanent housing.
How are these products making a difference to the recipients?
I know Weiner’s mission is to elevate hospitality, and that’s why they are such a good partner for LA Family Housing. One of our core values is dignity. We believe that experiencing homelessness is a point in time, not a defining condition.
Everyone has a different story, whether that’s dealing with domestic violence, falling through the social services system or just the trauma of being on the streets. When we reach out with supplies, we want people to see that a case manager has taken care to include high-quality, new products that are not just an after-thought or a half-used bottle of shampoo.
I think these little touches go a long way to helping us bridge the trust gap with people and treat them with dignity.
What kinds of things can people reading this article do to make a difference with regards to helping in their own communities?
There are a few things people can do. First, take a hard look inside and acknowledge that there’s essentially no difference between you and someone experiencing homelessness.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports there’s no city in the U.S. in which someone working full-time at minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment. So it could happen to anyone.
Second, get involved with local nonprofits or local government and be a proponent for building more affordable housing. The key to ending homelessness is building more affordable homes, period. And often, community buy-in goes a long way.
And third, if you’re making a Weiner’s purchase, consider adding a couple extra boxes to your order and donating those to a local nonprofit. The little essentials can make a big difference in your community.
Many thanks to Melody Jaramillo for her time and to the LA Family Housing for the work they do. Weiner’s is proud to be a trusted partner in their fight to end homelessness.