Words by Abi Scaife
A lot of people = a lot of food; it’s pretty simple maths. But, as anyone who has ever thrown a party knows, there are always leftovers; and it’s no different for the biggest party ever thrown - Hollywood.
“Sam and I both spent our entire career as Assistant Directors on film sets and watched a lot of food get thrown out,” this is Hillary Cohen - cofounder of Every Day Action, a not-for-profit that redistributes food across LA. “We both decided that we were not going to go back to work [after the COVID-19 lockdown] and let the food continue to be thrown out.”
Hillary, along with best friend and colleague Sam Luu, was inspired to take action when she was unable to work during the COVID-19 lockdown in LA. While many sectors were derailed by the lockdowns, creatives like those who worked on film sets were among the most impacted.
Stuck at home, sewing face masks and watching the news, Hillary found her anger at the negativity in the world growing and growing. Her feelings were shared by Sam, and eventually, the two came to the conclusion that they had to act - and thus the concept of an ‘Everyday Action’ was born.
“I just had this thought of one day of ‘What if I just put my phone down and went outside and did something for someone until the anger went away? And then the next day, if I did that, and did that again and again?’” says Hillary. “What if there was a ripple effect?”
Together, Sam and Hillary raised enough money to create Every Day Action, a non-profit organization tackling three problems at once.
The first; reducing food waste, the second; bringing food to those who need it, and the third; helping people within the film industry who were struggling for money as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and wage disparity.
It was an ambitious cause, but as it turned out, they were just the people needed to tackle it. During their interview with Smiley News their passion and drive were evident - they don’t just want to make a difference, they need to.
“In Los Angeles, there are people living next to every freeway underpass,” explains Hillary. “You can't drive to work without driving past someone who's unhoused. And these people need to be seen and heard.”
Each day, Every Day Action traverse a 90-mile area stretching from Santa Clarita to San Pedro, and reallocates around 60,000 meals on that route each year. This is a huge area of land to cover, and thousands of people are reached every single day - people who would otherwise go hungry.
Mostly run by unpaid volunteers, there are a few people who are paid; these are mostly people who are also involved in the film industry, taking up some of the lowest-paid jobs.
“There's a huge wage gap just within our own industry,” explains Sam. “Production assistants and background actors are some of the lowest paid and they are the backbone of our industry.”
“That was always our our goal - to help support the industry and have a three-pronged approach.”
One of the biggest hurdles Sam and Hillary faced - other than funding - was the lawsuit lie. In casual conversation with someone, you may be told that it is illegal to give away or donate surplus food - that there have been lawsuits and legal action taken against those who do so.
In fact, none of this is true . But just the fact that people believe this lie means that food is going to waste - and people are going hungry - completely unnecessarily. There is more than enough food to feed everyone, you just have to get it to the right people.
“When we looked it up, there are no cases where we could find a lawsuit,” adds Sam. “Then we found out it wasn't against the law. From our perspective, we just really wanted to break that whole system down.”
The food is collected from film sets, removing the waste that Sam and Hillary hated their whole careers, and it is distributed all over LA. From food banks and community kitchens to groups of ordinary people who are experiencing homelessness, Sam and Hillary are determined that not a scrap goes to waste.
The pair share the story of their first time delivering, all the way back at the beginning of Every Day Action when LA was still rife with COVID. They picked up food from a director they knew - who had purchased more than usual, to help them prove their concept, and took it to a local encampment.
The devastation that Hillary and Sam describe feeling when there had given away all their food and they saw there were still hungry people is palpable. They sat down and cried, knowing that even with all the food they had saved, there were still more people going hungry.
“We looked at each other and I [said] ‘We can't help them today but maybe we can help them tomorrow’,” Sam “We have to remind ourselves every day [that] we do the best we can. Maybe not today but tomorrow.”
Since its inception, Every Day Action has grown and grown, and now Sam and Hillary are getting food to thousands of people in need, along with their brilliant team of volunteers. Though they are still active crew members on film sets, Every Day Action is something they won’t be turning away from anytime soon - something that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
“Once you give food to someone in need, you can't stop,” says Hillary. “Once you see the impact of one person's life being changed … I don't know how you can walk away from that.”
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
Grow to Give. This charity connects local farmers and hobby growers to donate surplus fresh produce to food banks. Find out how to support them here.
The Felix Project. They collect fresh, nutritious food that cannot be sold and delivers this surplus food to charities and schools. Support them here.
FareShare. The UK's largest charity fighting hunger and food waste, they save good food from going to waste and redistribute it to frontline charities. Find out more.