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The Grapefruit Gospel
Every other Sunday afternoon, a team of Ecclesia Hollywood residents take to Hollywood Boulevard and share meal with the local homeless community living in tents along the 101 Freeway. The sight of a team handing out food to locals living on the street is not necessarily unique in Hollywood. Many feel a burden to care for the chronically and situationally homeless in Los Angeles and are well aware that the most recent citywide count revealed a 23% increase in homeless residents over the past 12 months. What is unique, is to see a team of people taking food orders, cooking alongside the homeless and then sharing the meal together over a long folding table right on the boulevard sidewalk. It is a scene right out of Heaven itself; rich and poor, successful and downtrodden, all sharing their laughter and lives together in the intimate communion of a common meal.
The story begins, oddly enough, with a man who was formerly homeless himself and the hope he found in the power of grapefruit.
At his lowest point, Jason Brown was 100 pounds overweight, unemployed, and living out of his car around the side streets of Hollywood. His first steady job in months came when a security guard company hired him to work the lobby of the historic Pacific Theater in the heart of Hollywood on Sundays while a church met in that space. As Jason connected with the church community of Ecclesia Hollywood, he began to rediscover his childhood faith. A desire for health and transformation was reborn within him. The job led to a steady paycheck, the paycheck to a new apartment and eventually Jason was trying to lose the weight he had gained amidst his depression and dislocation. A friend suggested he begin eating grapefruits as a healthy snack to increase his metabolism.
Within weeks Jason became known as the “Grapefruit Guy” carrying one with him wherever he went. As Jason’s physical habits became healthier, he also re-centered his life around Jesus and that change bore fruits of its own. Jason wanted to find a way to offer the love and hope of Jesus to those still on the streets of Hollywood. Since Jason’s radical changes were so tied to healthy eating and a renewed commitment to Christ, he thought it appropriate to use food as a way to build relationships. Armed with a brown bag of grapefruits, Jason began walking the streets after his shifts as a security guard offering the fruit and trying to make new friends. To his church friends, he jokingly called his crusade, “The Grapefruit Gospel.” Much to Jason’s dismay, he learned quickly that grapefruits were not necessary everyone, or anyone, else’s favorite fruit.
Jason took back to the streets with his grapefruit. But rather than passing them out, he used it as a way of sharing his love for healthy, comfort food and asking a new question, “What is your favorite comfort food from childhood that always reminds you of home?” People lit up sharing about their mother’s chicken pot pie, or their abuela’s cheese enchiladas. Then without much warning, Jason asked them if he could prepare that meal for them and bring it back next week to eat together?
In Jason’s own words “I seek to reconnect an identity that may have been lost through living on the streets by evoking good memories of times past and the love they received from someone they cared about via a comfort meal. We serve those on the streets for no other reason than for who they are in God's image, to remind them that they are loved, and that they are not forgotten. We turn food into love.”
As for Jason, he now serves as the Safety and Security Manager at WET Design, the premier designer of epic, outdoor commercial fountains like the one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He initiated a volunteer program at WET and often brings colleagues who are not yet followers of Jesus with him to serve on Sundays. This Thanksgiving, Jason coordinated an effort to distribute 320 meals donated by In ‘N Out Burgers to those living on the streets of Hollywood. But in typical healthy living fashion, Jason worked with a local food bank to supplement the burgers and cokes with salads, salsa, and rice. He also serves as Ecclesia’s coordinator for the annual Winter Refuge, a six week winter shelter in which local churches cook and share 2 meals a day with it’s 30-50 residents.