LA Kings, Enrich LA and Melissa's Join Forces for Kids
By Lena Adebowale

Melissa’s Partners With L.A. Kings to Rebuild Elementary School Garden and Educate

In celebration of their 50th Anniversary season, the Los Angeles Kings and Kings Care Foundation pledged to engage LA Kings players, alumni, staff and fans with 50 charitable acts throughout the city of Los Angeles. These acts, characterized by donations, awareness campaigns and volunteerism, are intended to give back in a substantial way to the same city that has supported the Kings since 1967.

On Tuesday, January 24, Melissa’s and the LA Kings partnered with EnrichLA, a not-for-profit organization, to help the Kings with their 22nd charitable act of the year. Our teams joined forces and built 20th Street Elementary School a new interactive garden. The school is about 2.5 miles from Melissa’s. In addition to being close to both Melissa’s and Staples Center (home of the LA Kings), the school is in a very busy urban area, making it a perfect candidate for EnrichLA’s mission of creating edible gardens in underserved and urban schools.

This was Melissa’s first time working with EnrichLA, a worthy charity that builds and helps take care of edible school gardens throughout Los Angeles. After installing and managing a garden at a middle school nearly 10 years ago, Tomas O’Grady, EnrichLA’s Executive Director, discovered how the garden benefitted the students, staff and the surrounding community. He formally founded EnrichLA in 2011 as a non-profit.

That first school is now one of nearly 70, and all show how school gardens can transform communities. Having a garden brings people together, adds beauty to urban areas, improves morale and promotes healthy living. The organization’s slogan, “A Garden in Every School,” is true to Tomas’s vision of a better Los Angeles, where children can experience the joy of growing, harvesting, preparing and eating simple whole foods.

We at Melissa’s were excited to help build a garden. As the date came near, we were on pins and needles watching the weather forecast. As members of the produce industry, we know the value of rain, but when you’re building an outdoor garden…rain, rain, go away! It was important that we fulfill our promise to the hundreds of students at 20th Street Elementary, and we were prepared to work rain or shine.

When the day arrived, the weather was cool, but dry! Team Melissa’s and Team Kings arrived at 20th Street Elementary to a warm welcome from Tomas of EnrichLA and Mario Garcielita, the school principal. Soon, we were off to work! Team Melissa’s included Nick Quintero, Lacy Garcia, Carlos Preciado, Derek Hernandez, Peter Blake, Chef Miki Hackney, Lori Hirai and myself. Approximately 20 Kings Care team members came, as well as four very organized people from EnrichLA, who ensured the day went very smoothly.

Immediately, the three groups bonded and began to work as one team—much helped by the fact that we all matched, as Melissa’s Marketing Department had created great tee-shirts featuring all the participants’ logos and a cheerful drawing of a vegetable garden.

We all gained an appreciation for what our produce partners out in the fields do—this was hard work, and we were just building garden, not actually farming! First we cleared weeds and debris.

Then we prepped the foundation with wood chips, built wooden planter boxes and trellises, laid irrigation piping throughout, filled the planter boxes with organic soil, and silk-screened wooden tags to identify the planted produce.

What we didn’t do was actually put any plants in the ground—we simply created the infrastructure that will allow the 20th Street community to plant their own seeds and watch them grow.

Fortunately, we did have the chance to engage with some of the students. Chef Miki treated select 5th graders to a presentation on “Eating Your Colors,” offering simple tips and fun facts about fruits and veggies. The kids were engaged and smiling. They really seemed to enjoy Chef Miki’s talk, and they were also excited to get started on their garden.

Both the Kings and Melissa’s live-streamed the process and shared social posts about the event. In addition, the Kings Care newsletter will feature an article on the garden build. The Kings team is also creating a time-lapse video of the event. We look forward to seeing the video online and on the jumbotron at a King’s game sometime soon!

The planters at 20th Street Elementary will feature joint branding from Melissa’s and the LA Kings, and we may participate in further educational events at the school. Overall, this was an exciting event for Melissa’s, strengthening our relationship with the community and with our partners the LA Kings.