Just days before Convoy of Hope Los Angeles, very few believed it was actually going to happen. Residents of the Watts community have often been over promised and under delivered and skepticism ran rampant. Though in the face of adversity, hope came to Watts on December 2, 2017.
When the reality that this event was — in fact — going to happen hit, hope and excitement filled the community.
“I was driving down the street, on my way to Convoy and these big, monster Convoy of Hope trucks drove right by me,” said Julian Toriz, LA native and Kids Zone Leader for the event. “I’m like ‘oh my goodness!’ Rolling deep, 3 big trucks — boom, boom, boom. I got out my camera. I’m trying to drive and I’m like ‘I got to document this’.”
More than 8,400 Guests of Honor attended the event that day. They received free groceries, shoes, haircuts, and health services. The local team that worked with Convoy of Hope to make the event a reality was amazed at the impact on the community.
The Watts neighborhood of South Central LA is an area of high poverty and crime. The 2010 census revealed that 35.9% of South Central LA live below the poverty line — more than double the U.S. rate of 14.1%. Watts is home to 13 known gangs and four of the largest housing projects in all of LA – all in a two square mile area.
A large step for the Convoy of Hope team in making this event a reality was meeting with and getting the approval of the Watts Gang Task Force to establish a Day of Peace. According to Convoy of Hope Signature Events Director Steve Pulis, not only did this create an opportunity for the community to attend the event without fear of violence, but it established the event as a positive opportunity to help the community.
“When that group came on board and got behind it, we had more than their permission,” Pulis said. “We got the word out among not only gangs, but the entire community – this event is positive, it’s here to help and the gangs are good with it. It has everyone’s support.”
The event took place in Ted Watkins Memorial Park. This is a special place to Convoy of Hope as it was the site of the first Community Event in 1995, only a few years before the park was closed due to violence at a few large park events. The park was closed to large events for 20 years, until the Convoy of Hope event in 2017.
A day of miracles
Convoy of Hope’s Community Events are only possible through the support of volunteers from within the community and its surrounding areas. For most Community Events, the Convoy of Hope team aims to get between 1,200 and 2,000 volunteers. However, by the day of the Watts event there were only 400 volunteers registered and only 303 actually came.
Even with the low volunteer attendance, the event ran smoothly and every Guest of Honor was able to be served.
“It’s a miracle that we didn’t have any issues,” Pulis said. “People can complain anywhere. You can get in too long of a line at the check out of any store and you’re gonna have someone upset. Nothing here.”
Local team member and long-time Watts resident Cornell Ward referenced the biblical story of The Feeding of the 5,000 — in which Jesus feeds 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish — and said “I know what it feels like.”
Convoy of Hope is grateful for the opportunity to bring some hope to South Central LA, but the work is not done yet. Convoy of Hope has already planned to return to LA for another Community Event on December 1, 2018.