Local businesses in Reseda band together to give away free student lunches

A Reseda couple and other local businesses band together to give away 600 student lunches.


Chris Torres

Lang Duong receives a bag with free school supplies for her grandchildren for the Free Back to School Event hosted by 818 Plates at Reseda, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.

Monserrat Solis, Assistant Culture Editor

The sun is starting to rise when Jalise Johnson starts her day by going to the grocery store, filling her cart with hot dogs, chips and other snacks, the next few hours are spent cooking and preparing to give out free student lunches.

Jalise Johnson and her husband, Exavier Johnson, started their own small catering business, 818 Plates, selling crab boils after they were both left unemployed by the pandemic. Starting slow, they sold to friends and family, but soon wondered what they could do for their community.

Given that children are no longer getting meals at school, they wanted to make sure kids in their community had a hot meal and give some assistance to parents who were struggling during the pandemic. About 405,000 students in the L.A. Unified School District qualify free or reduced-price meals based on their family’s income.

Since their crab boil business had been successful, they were able to fund and create their own goals for this project. Starting on the week of Aug. 24, the Johnson’s handed the lunches out from their apartment complex in Reseda. Advertising through social media and signs on the street, the two began to get the attention from the community. 

At first, their goal was to give away 50 free student lunches a day, but by the end of the week, donations allowed them to give away 600 lunches to kids in their community. 


Jalise Johnson said it was a hectic week: prepping the lunch bags and getting their children — aged two and eight — ready for school.

“It was one of the busiest days of my life, but honestly it was one of the most rewarding to see how many families we were able to help,” Jalise said. 

The community support came on their second day when Araceli Alfaro and her sister, Elizabeth Alfaro drove past the Johnsons waving a sign that read, “Free student lunches.”

Exavier Johnson’s god brother and owner of Solid Culture Apparel, Kenny Davis, holds a “Free School Supplies” sign while standing on Sherman Way at Reseda, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Chris Torres)

Araceli Alfaro and her family then decided they were going to donate $100 allowing the Johnsons to up their goal to 100 lunches a day. 

They shared a similar story with the Johnsons. The Alfaro family had started their own food stand, Antojitos Estilo D.F., that serves Mexico City food after Elizabeth Alfaro was laid off due to COVID-19.

Other businesses and residents also contributed. 

Liberty Dental Plan reached out and donated 200 dental kits to put into the bags. 

Yesika Baez, a local resident and custom silk screening business owner, donated rice krispy treats and cookies. 

Another Reseda resident gave them a white poster board when they first saw Exavier Johnson with a cardboard box advertising their lunch bags on their first day. 

On Sept.14, 818 Plates and Antojitos Estilo D.F. teamed up with Solid Culture Apparel, another local business, to give away 250 gift bags with school supplies in Reseda. The three local businesses hope to continue giving away free lunches for a week each month. 

More information on future giveaways or donation inquiries should be made via direct message to their instagram @818plates. 

“I feel like us giving back to the community just opened up a new door for the community to want to help as well,” Jalise Johnson said. 

Jalise Johnson, the co-owner of 818 Plates, hands out free school supplies to a line of people at Reseda, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (Chris Torres)


Editor’s note: Story was updated at 11:53 p.m. on Sept. 15 to fix a spelling error and update image galleries.