First published in the Oct. 21 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
Fifteen students from San Marino High School and two parent volunteers recently spent several hours preparing and serving meals to visitors at downtown Los Angeles’ Union Rescue Mission, a shelter and service organization assisting those experiencing homelessness.
The group spent most of a Sunday working the lunch and dinner shifts, where about 900 meals were served at each sitting.
The service event was organized and facilitated by Key Club President Marcus Chua and events coordinator Linzee Lee, who with others in the group’s cabinet worked with the mission to recruit members to participate in the event. Chua was responsible for overseeing the event’s lunch shift, and club Vice Presidents Ethan Foong and J. T. Liao took care of the dinner shift.
The meals were served in a cafeteria-style line, with each station staffed by a member of the Key Club. After the mission’s guests had gone through the line and received a hot meal, about 240 meals were left over and taken outside the building by club members and distributed on the streets of skid row, according to Chua.
“Coordinating this event and volunteering at Union Rescue Mission was a wonderful experience for me,” said Lee, a junior. “After last year, with a lack of in-person activities, getting the opportunity to volunteer in person and help out the homeless community was something I feel truly grateful for, and I’m glad that Key Club was able to offer its services to make an impact within the community.
“This event was an enlightening experience and I look forward to being able to organize more service events like this one for Key Club in the future,” Lee added.
Chua also was affected in a positive way.
“Given that this was our first service event of the year, I really wanted to do something that would make an impact, and I’m glad that our club felt the same way,” said the senior, who recently was named a National Merit semifinalist and was SMHS’ student of the month for September.
“More than anything, I thought it was important to look outside of the community of San Marino and provide help where it was truly needed most. I feel that we were able to let the homeless community on skid row know that someone had their back, and we’ll be sure to organize more events like these in the future.”
The volunteer service involved a lot of hands-on effort. The SMHS students helped clean tables, prepare the meals and serve the food to the guests. The preparations for the meals consisted of a systematic line in which one volunteer would place the main course onto the plate, the next classmate would add some salad, and the next would add pastries.
“It would continue until we had a full meal to place in storage or serve fresh to the guests,” said Chua. “Some of our club members were also drying off trays and preparing plates for future meals. As the guests were arriving, our club members would hand out the meals and drinks for them to enjoy at their tables.
“After all the guests were served and they finished their meals and left, we cleaned up the area and continued packaging meals for storage,” he continued. “The club worked collaboratively with one another in preparing the meals, ensuring the incoming guests received their meals, and cleaning up the area for a clean dining setting. Each club member that volunteered at the service event pitched in equally.”
Joy Flores, the mission’s vice president of programs and operations, is quite familiar with both San Marino and its high school: She lives in town and graduated from SMHS.
“It is volunteers like this that make our life-saving, life-transforming work possible,” Flores said. “Not only did they provide a warm home-cooked meal, but a smile and eye contact are just as important, as we build trusting relationships with our guests. We are so thankful they chose to spend their Sunday with us here on skid row.”
Other Key Club cabinet members who attended the work project were Secretary Ellie Kha, Treasurer Jonathan King, publicity director Karen Huynh and fundraising coordinator Christina Bui.
SMHS’ Key Club has 115 members, a number that Chua said has increased due to the return of in-person schooling since the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For the past few years, Key Club membership has been on a noticeable decline, and we had under 50 members last year,” Chua said. “Given that we are now back in person, I think more students are enthusiastic about clubs and are looking to get more involved in the community, which is amazing.”
Though its numbers are up, Chua said that anyone who would like to join the club or donate to its efforts is encouraged to email him at