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After a successful Community Week leading into ComplexCon Chicago this past July, Complex is bringing those same vibes and community outreach to the Los Angeles area, with a Community Week initiative kicking off before ComplexCon Long Beach 2019 in November.
To celebrate, Complex linked up with the good folks at #HashtagLunchbag and Panera Bread to donate items for 1,000 lunchbags featuring food from Panera Bread, which is 100 percent clean—meaning no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, and colors. Many of these bags were delivered to organizations and shelters all over Los Angeles; 100 special bags were then delivered to recipients at Covenant House L.A., which provides sanctuary and support for youth ages 18-24 facing homelessness and human trafficking. Not only did these lunchbags (created by an amazing volunteer staff) feature inspiring words and delicious food, they also included invitations to ComplexCon Long Beach 2019.
For the unaware, #HashtagLunchbag is a movement that's been growing strong since they came up with the concept of making lunchbags like your mom used to make for those in need. The idea has turned into a nationwide movement, spawning #HashtagLunchbag sessions across the country.
"We ended up playing some music, have a little dance party, watched the Lakers beat the Knicks," #HashtagLunchbag co-founder Ajay Relan tells Complex about their Christmas Day 2012 kickoff. "Then [we] just hopped in the car and just drove around looking for anybody. Unfortunately, it's not hard to find somebody in need in a city like L.A., so we just rode around looking for anybody that look like they could use a meal or just a smile. Pretty quickly we were able to pass out 100 meals." Spreading the positivity on social media, along with a joke on hashtag culture, birthed the "#hashtaglunchbag" name, and they've been off to the races ever since, with the goal of "empowering and inspiring humanity to reap the benefits of giving through the use of social media."
Getting involved is simple: You just show up and, as Relan notes, "make a sandwich that was a sandwich as if you were making it for somebody that you loved, or yourself, or somebody you cared about. The power of intention, right? There was a whole station where people would write love notes and the goal for the love note was write something you want to read when you're having a rainy, weird day. We all have it. Bagging station, we'd play music." It's simple, and easy for anyone to hop on, which has helped it spread to Colorado, New York, and many points in between. They created a website and gave folks the tools to hold their own #HashtagLunchbag sessions, with 40 different cities doing so in the first year.
"This was kind of a happy accident," Relan says, "so it wasn't something that we intended to make. Now, fast-forward, these events have happened in over 100 cities all over the world. Multiple corporations." That's made a little kickback that could turn into something much deeper than anyone intended. "Originally we used to say, 'We're ending world hunger one lunch bag at a time,' before quickly realizing, 'I don't even think we're putting a dent in hunger.' Period. There's a lot of great organizations out doing a lot of great work on a daily basis. What are we really doing? We realized that we created an easy, low-barrier-to-entry, fun, cool way for everyday people to get involved, and realizing that we're just incrementally changing people's views of their own roles in the world. And the whole mission is to just get people to take accountability in their immediate surroundings such that other people that are watching them even looking up through example, or this old adage of 'Be the change that you wish to see' are incrementally inspired to be better people on their own.
"So we use food and these events," Relan continues, "to feed people experiencing homelessness, or hungry people, as a gateway to giving. To remind people how much power we have in our everyday life and how much it positively impacts us and our quality of life, and our happiness, and our health. So it's kind of evolved into this mission. We formulated an actual nonprofit out of it called Living Through Giving whose mission is to connect humanity around these organized acts of love, with #HashtagLunchbag being a very measurable, quantifiable way to do that. And we're cultivating these communities all over the country. We have about 40 to 50 chapters that host completely grassroots events on a monthly basis. We're doing our best to provide them with the resources that they need, and our current objectives are, 'How do we take this consciousness and go beyond the bag, and spread the bigger mission, which is just changing people's minds about themselves and then incentivizing them because it just makes everybody happier? Servicing other people. Focusing out of yourself."
Sounds easy enough, right? Throw a party aimed at giving someone out there a moment to feel good about themselves, with words of encouragement and a great meal, and pass them out. It's that simple, and can mean more to a person than you'd imagine.
For more information on #HashtagLunchbag, head over to their website—you can do everything from sign up to donate funds to volunteer at future events. Check out more photos from our event with #HashtagLunchbag and Panera Bread below. ComplexCon Long Beach 2019 is going down on November 2-3 at the Long Beach Convention Center, and Community Week begins on October 28.