Miami-Dade County

#HashtagLunchbag accomplishes growth through social media and feeds the hungry in Miami

Before making the sandwiches, the volunteers unwrap the packaged food in order to facilitate the process.
Before making the sandwiches, the volunteers unwrap the packaged food in order to facilitate the process. Miami Herald Staff

On Dec. 25, 2012, in an effort to “give back” for the holiday season, Ajay Relan, 31, and some friends got together at his apartment in Los Angeles to make lunches, which they later distributed to hungry people around the Santa Monica Pier.

On Christmas morning, he awakened, went to the grocery store, and picked up enough food to make lunches for 100 people. The grocery list included deli meat, fresh baked bread, sliced cheese, Fruit Gushers, potato chips, oranges and apples, Hershey’s Kisses, Capri Sun and bottles of water.

Relan went back home, opened a bottle of champagne and made the lunches with the help of his friends.

After the distribution, they went on social media and “tweeted” about the deed which they named #HashtagLunchbag. Within hours, their words were shared, reblogged and retweeted.

“It felt awesome. It felt really good,” Relan said. “We looked back in our phones later and noticed there was a lot of feedback. In February, was my birthday and I wanted to do it for my birthday. So we did it at a bar. So 100 people ended up showing up. One hundred people had a blast, and most importantly 100 people shared their experience on social platforms using the hashtag “#HashtagLunchbag.”

#HashtagLunchbag is a nonprofit organization that consists of people gathering at a designated location and making lunches with the objective of feeding any famished person they encounter. Each lunch is a brown paper bag containing: one sandwich, a cookie, a fruit, a nut or fruit bar, a bottle of water and a “love note” with a message of encouragement.

Now #HashtagLunchbag is over two years old and found in over 150 cities worldwide. One of them is Miami.

The monthly event happens at Lou La Vie, a luxury car rental and art gallery on Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami. Once a month, a group of people gathers and plays music. They dance, socialize and make the lunches. There are various centers that fulfill each task: opening or cutting the food, making the sandwiches, writing the “love notes,” preparing the brown paper bags and filling the boxes that are taken out for distribution.

Estefany Cespedes, 27 believes that every lunch bag delivers both a meal and a message of hope.

“When I did it there [Los Angeles], I loved it and I kept going every month,” said Cespedes, 27, who brought #HashtagLunchbag to Miami after moving from L.A. “When I moved to Miami, I asked Ajay if I could start it out here.”

She started #HashtagLunchbag in December 2013 at an art Gallery in Wynwood. It later moved to Lou La Vie, after Cespedes teamed with Julz Goddard, 25, known socially as “YesJulz.”

“I heard about Hashtag, and I was like, ‘We have to do this in Miami,’ but then I found out there was already one in Miami,” said Goddard, who clarifies that #HashtagLunchbag focuses on feeding the hungry, regardless if they are homeless or not. “I always wanted to do stuff with the community, but I had to wait until I had a real platform where people would listen to me.”

Goddard, who is known for throwing parties in Miami and currently has a social media reach of more than 200,000 followers, played a roll in promoting #HashtagLunchbag as a fun event, encouraging people to wake up and join the cause.

“We have to put a twist on it with music and food for the volunteers and make it a party; give it that Miami flavor,” Goddard added. “This is our city, and we have to make it fun, and I really want to challenge the tastemakers and the celebrities that I party with all week to wake up on a Sunday and come out and do it.”

Ian Welsch, 33, founder and CEO of The Motivational Edge, a youth development agency in Allapattah, joined #HashtagLunchbag in 2014. The Motivational Edge, also known as the “Irie Foundation Allapattah Music and Literacy Center,” focuses on helping “at-risk” youth.

Many of the kids from the foundation volunteer at #HashtagLunchbag every month.

“#HashtagLunchbag really does feed people that really need it,” said Tarrell Newell, 18, a student at The Motivational Edge and one of the volunteers at #HashtagLunchbag. “I think it’s one of the first steps to help people; you offer them a sandwich and then you offer some real help. Sometime people need to be reminded that they are important and that they are worth it.”

On Sunday, June 14, #HashtagLunchbag hosted 75 volunteers and made 1,000 lunches, which were all distributed around Miami.

Patricia Reed, 50, and her husband Jene Elvine, 57, are among the hundreds of hungry people whom hangout on the streets of Downtown Miami.

On a recent Sunday afternoon while they lounged on the sidewalk of Northwest First Avenue, a white car drove by. Reed, recognized it as one of the cars that stops by on random Sundays, delivering brown paper bags filled with food.

“This is something that they do with the goodness of their heart,” Elvine said. “We appreciate it.”

Twitter @CataBalzano

If You Go:

What: #HashtagLunchbag

When: July 26, 2015

Time: Begins at 1p.m. - 3p.m.

Where: Lou La Vie on 1444 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL.

For more information: http://www.hashtaglunchbag.org/ or follow on instagram @HashtagLunchbagMiami

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