When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, people the world over stocked up on food and personal protective equipment, then took refuge in their houses or apartments. For others, like the unhoused population of Skid Row, such precautions were simply not feasible. Thankfully, LOV Movement is there to help.
Twenty-six-year-old Canyon Country resident Jordan Minns founded the nonprofit LOV Movement in 2017 with the goal of funding and starting grassroots projects that help communities. Since childhood, Minns always felt called to devote his life to serving others.
“I went through high school and college thinking that the opportunity for me to find my path to make a change and help the world would find me,” Minns said. “When I graduated from UCLA I had this realization that it never found me. You just have to do it on your own. The philosophy of LOV Movement as a whole is that it’s not really about charity, what can we do to change your life long term. I can just give you a meal and that will feed you today which is great, but with everything we do it’s not just once, we provide a consistent source every week.”
Minns’ first project was a program he started to feed the unhoused people living on Skid Row. What began as a one-man effort to bring pizzas once a week has grown into a larger operation that sees between 15-20 weekly volunteers and serves up to 300 people. The operation has grown to include donations of clothing, hygiene items and books.
“So many in Santa Clarita just live in their bubble and will never understand what it’s like to be an unhoused person,” said Analyse Cortez, director of LOV Movement’s Skid Row program. She first volunteered in July 2020, though as a child she and her mother used to volunteer in the area as well. Her work with the people of Skid Row is important to her because unhoused people are an unfairly maligned and misunderstood population.
“There are a lot of misconceptions that all unhoused people are lazy drug addicts and alcoholics, and of course that may be true for some of them but that could also be true for a gated community in Valencia. I want to be the person who sees an unhoused person as a human being and not as a piece of trash or a criminal for sleeping on the street. A large portion of our demographic are from marginalized populations like trans or disabled people and people of color, and I want to help uplift people from other communities that aren’t like myself.”
The newest branch of LOV Movement is LOV Kitchen headed by Cari Golden. Golden graduated from culinary school as quarantine went into effect, which stymied her efforts to find work. She was introduced to LOV Movement in October by Cortez’s posts on Facebook and wanted to help.
“This was about the time of the election and I was freaking out about all the darkness on the news and I felt like I needed to battle the darkness with the light,” Golden said. “I can make 100 meals for $100. I started posting what I was doing and people started to donate and point me to strategic partnerships.”
Initially Golden started small with making bologna and cheese sandwiches but as more funding and food donations from her partner organizations came in, she was able to stretch her $100 per week budget further and make more wholesome meals. The first cooked meal she served was meat lasagna, mixed green salad, tarragon potatoes and acorn squash. Another time she served roasted ham with tangy brown sugar glaze, four cheese macaroni and cheese and rosemary carrots. Generally Golden tries to serve two protein options, three vegetable sides and a salad.
“Folks down on Skid Row can get pizza and burgers without a lot of nutritional value, but my goal is to have people eat well and eat something that is actually good for them,” Golden said. “Sometimes people don’t like vegetables, but it’s just a matter of how well you cook and season them and I’ve flipped so many people into liking vegetables. It’s a question of balancing the food that people want with what they actually need. It’s basically food-Tetris.”
While the Skid Row operation is a huge undertaking on its own, the majority of LOV Movement’s current focus is in Kenya where Minns has helped create several aid programs and is currently working to build a school.
Minns’ first trip to Kenya began as an opportunity to teach martial arts to children. While he was there, Minns was introduced to a pastor and community organizer named Antony Njoroge who worked in the Giotto slum located inside a garbage dump and is home to 140 mostly single-parent families. After visiting the slum, Minns felt compelled to help the people living there and formed a partnership with Njoroge.
Since the slum is in a dump site, the residents do not have access to clean water. LOV Movement’s first Kenyan project was to fund regular deliveries of clean water to fill the community’s water tanks. LOV Movement also sponsors a weekly grocery drop-off for 40 residents who are elderly and unable to work, along with their families, and coordinated with the county to install hand-washing stations after the pandemic started.
“Even with all the other stuff we’ve done, the water program is such a crucial part of our outreach and just having clean drinking water is something we really take for granted here in the states,” Minns said. “In addition to drinking, the people use this water for cooking, washing their clothes and there’s also an additional hazard in that community for fires. Several times a year big fires will start, so it’s literally been a life-saving program.”
A majority of the roughly 1,000 individuals living in Giotto are children. Minns wanted to provide an opportunity for them to break the cycle of poverty and receive an education, but he believes even that is secondary to growing up removed from the pressures of the slum. This is where LOV Movement’s most ambitious project, the Ascend Education Ecosystem, comes in.
Located an hour outside of Giotto, Ascend Education Ecosystem is a 3,000 square foot school, farm and living facility. Up to 50 children from four to eight years old and two full time teachers will be able to live at the facility while other students and teachers from the surrounding areas will be able to come to the school each day. The five-acre farm will provide food for the students and crops to sell as a source of funding to help make the facility self-sustaining. Minns said he wants the school to be based on international educational standards plus the Montessori method to provide a level of instruction on a par with if not exceeding instruction at U.S. schools, including technological literacy through laptops and tablets.
Construction on the facility is almost complete and Minns anticipates that when Ascend Education Ecosystem opens by this fall, the families will be very excited to enroll their students in the program. The families recognize that the slum life provides a bleak outlook for their children and Minns plans to provide transportation for the parents to visit.
The biggest challenges in building the school were adjusting the plans to meet the local building and educational standards and managing funding.
“LOV Movement is not a highly funded organization, so we really have to manage every penny tightly,” Minns said. “A lot of the money has been fundraised as we go so we started building and still didn’t have the full funds, so there have been points where the money ran out so construction had to pause while we hustled up some more funds. It’s important when you’re asking people for money to have something for them to rally around. When you start building something and people see it physically, it’s way easier to get support and donations.”
The biggest contributor for LOV Movement’s growth and funding has been through social media. He credits the organization’s transparency and operation against the norm for how much support he receives.
“I don’t know any rich people or have any rich friends, it’s all just been through grassroots fundraising,” he said. “A lot of [young people] like what we’re doing and are kind of jaded or critical of how nonprofits normally run. I don’t take a salary and one hundred percent of the donations go to the people who need it so that’s what I think has helped us get financial support and volunteers.”
Social media has been an essential tool for Cortez, who uses it to help illustrate the obstacles that unhoused populations face everyday.
“I made a post explaining about what the unhoused go through when it rains and what they need and I did a tarp drive,” she said. “I was able to raise a little over $1,000 to buy tarps. People want to help, they just don’t understand how.”
Safety concerns caused many other organizations to cease operation in Skid Row when the pandemic began. While Minns was initially hesitant to continue, he decided to take whatever safety precautions he could then keep operating as normally as possible.
“Nobody really knew the exact dimensions of COVID and no one wanted to put anyone at risk, but at the end of the day, I just thought of all the people I know down there that count on a meal from us, so to me as long as there were people to help I was going to do it,” he said. “You just take whatever precautions you can and know you’re doing the right thing. I always got a lot of love from the community but it was always like, ‘Here’s this kid who brings stuff for us.’ I think it hit a lot harder when other groups stopped coming and it was like, ‘Oh, he’s still showing up for us.’”
In Kenya, the coronavirus has not presented much of an issue for LOV Movement. The grocery drops have to be more careful in order to minimize the risk of infecting the elderly residents who have weaker immune systems. The biggest obstacle was having to postpone any trips until the country relaxed travel restrictions in Sept. 2020. Though this impeded Minns’ ability to fundraise in person, the lockdown did not significantly slow down construction. There have been significant casualties from COVID, and Minns said he believes this has led to Kenya viewing the virus more seriously than the U.S. has though vaccinations efforts have begun.
In addition to taking precautions for COVID safety, Minns and Cortez acknowledge that Skid Row can be a dangerous place and take steps to mitigate any risks. LOV Movement’s activities are limited to daytime hours. In the rare instance when they need to go to Skid Row at night, Minns said he operates with almost military precision to go in, get the job done and get out as quickly as possible. Minns also comes from a martial arts background which has honed his sense of awareness and prepared him to deal with any potential disruptions. This has turned out to not be necessary, since the people served by LOV Movement are often the ones helping to maintain discipline and order in the lines and ensure that the services continue each week.
“I’m well aware of all of the stuff that goes on down there, but at the same time it’s important that people don’t spin that narrative of it being a dangerous place to the people living there being dangerous, because some of the most beautiful people I have ever met have been on Skid Row,” MInns said.
In what seems like a paradox, LOV Movement experienced its biggest growth after the pandemic started. Before COVID, the average number of volunteers was generally no more than two people in addition to Minns but now there are 10 to 20 volunteers per week. Some like Cortez were inspired by the death of George Floyd and the revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement and found LOV Movement through a partnership with SCV For Change.
For Minns, the most important and overarching goal of LOV Movement is to create spaces of home that promote positivity. Currently, he wants to maintain the scope of the Skid Row program but eventually he would like to create a permanent location that serves food once a day rather than once a week that also provides outreach and resources for mental health and housing. His long term goal for Kenya is to help resettle all the families who want to leave the slum and provide them with a home and opportunities for economic advancement.
Despite having operated LOV Kitchen for six months, Golden has not met Minns in person due to the pandemic and his trips to Kenya. Still, she said she’s inspired by his work.
“I’m in awe of what he’s built,” she said. “I’m sitting here thinking ‘I’m twice his age and he’s built an entire school and farm in Kenya.’ It’s amazing. It releases me from thinking I can’t achieve things.”
To learn more about LOV Movement, donate or volunteer, visit lovmvmt.com.