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Press Release                                                                Teresa Watanabe

For Immediate Release                Vice President, Community Relations

Feb. 12, 2009                                       Japanese American Optimist Club

With photo                                                                           (213) 265-6813


Venice Sparkles Shine in Service to the Hungry


For years, the sixth-grade girls of the Venice Sparkles basketball team have exchanged Christmas gifts with each other at an annual team party – raking in t-shirts, games, gift certificates and other goodies for themselves. 


But amid rising levels of hunger and economic gloom, the girls made a more selfless choice this year: They decided to forgo their annual gift exchange and instead used $220 of their own money to go shopping as a team to buy food for the hungry. This month, they donated 16 bags of groceries to the Japanese American Optimist Club’s food drive on behalf of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and Kosumosu, a transitional housing facility for victims of domestic violence operated by the Little Tokyo Service Center.


“I felt good, knowing it would help other people,” said Sydney Hongo, a sixth-grader at El Segundo Middle School who has played with the Sparkles since kindergarten.


Leland Lau, commissioner of the JAO Invitational Girls’ Basketball League,  praised the team as an example of the kind of selfless service the club aims to promote in its activities. The club, founded in 1954, is one of 3,200 Optimist Clubs throughout the world involving 96,000 men and women whose service projects reach an estimated 6 million youth each year.


“It’s unbelievable what they did – this is definitely sacrificing themselves,” Lau said. “We’re looking for kids to get involved in helping others, to make life special for other people.”


The club launched its food drive in December amid reports from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank that requests for help had grown by 40%, many from middle-class families that never before had needed aid. So far, the club has received enough donations to fill 14 boxes with an estimated 1,000 pounds of food. More than $1,000 in cash donations have also been received.


The Venice contribution was spearheaded by Willie Hsu and his daughter Kelli, a sixth-grader at Palms Middle School. Hsu said he had read about the growing needs at community food banks and proposed to his team that they help out. He wanted the girls to use their own money as a gesture of selflessness, and also learn to stretch their dollars with smart shopping. After one of their games, the girls pooled their money and went shopping at Food 4 Less.


“We decided as a team that the girls had plenty of stuff and there were a lot of people who didn’t have things,” Hsu said. “The girls actually dug into their own wallets.”


Hsu’s daughter, Kelli, said she contributed $15 of her Christmas money. As the girls went up and down the aisles scouring the shelves for bargains, Kelli chose the macaroni and cheese. Others piled rice, hot chocolate, peanut butter, jelly, canned sausages, tuna, cereal, dressing and other goods into the shopping cart. Marissa Vensel, a sixth-grader at Culver City Middle School, was the group’s financial controller, keeping track of how much money was spent and how much was left as each item was placed in the basket. She came within 50 cents of the total, Hsu said.


Kelli admitted that she wasn’t crazy about the idea at first - but ultimately learned the joy of giving.


“I thought it was a good idea but I didn’t want to use my money at first,” Kelli said. “But I’m glad I did. I was able to help people.”


The Venice team members are: Sarah Chang, Sydney Hongo, Kelli Hsu, Keilani Ikehara, Kira Kishi, Katie Lin, Marissa Vensel and Megan Yoon.  


The food drive will continue through Saturday, Feb. 21, when families can deliver donations between 7 and 10 p.m. at the JAO 40th Anniversary Bingo Night scholarship fundraiser at Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, 815 E. 1st St. in Los Angeles.


Donations can also be dropped off at the office of Leland G. Lau CPA, 3056 W. Main Street in Alhambra. Other donation pickups can be arranged by calling JAO at 213-265-6813 or emailing


Needed food items include canned protein such as tuna, sardines, stews and soups; peanut butter and jelly; canned fruits and vegetables; fruit juices, staples such as beans, rice and pasta and personal care items including lotion, toothpaste and deodorant.


For Kosumosu, other needed items include rice, Asian ramen/noodles and green tea.


            The Japanese American Optimist Club has been a leader in voluntary community service in Los Angeles for more than a half-century.  Its 120 members touch the lives of thousands of youth every year through educational, athletic, and social projects.  For more information, visit the JAO website at or e-mail Community Relations VP Teresa Watanabe at

August 1, 2005

Press Release                                                            From

For Immediate Release:



CALPASC Members Help Remodel Mary's Soup Kitchen

(Orange, CA)  An average of 100 people a day stop by Mary’s Kitchen to eat and clean up.  After ten years, that’s a considerable amount of wear and tear on the modular buildings.  New showers, floors, doors and a fresh coat of paint are just some of what’s in store for this Orange, California homeless station.  Members of the California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors Orange County Inland Empire chapter (CALPASC OCIE) are about half way through their project to bring new life to the well used and much needed facility’s bathroom and laundry areas.


Modular buildings on West Struck Avenue house the kitchen, restrooms with showers and a place for guests to wash and dry their clothes.  “We just want to do what we can to help these folks have a fighting chance to get back on their feet,” says project director and Dynamic Plumbing Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Mike Mahony.  “It's CALPASC’s way of giving back to the community, which has given our companies so much work over the years.” 

Mahony and his CALPASC partners are following in the same footsteps that first started Mary’s Kitchen over twenty years ago when Mary McAnena began fixing and delivering meals to the homeless in Hart Park.  Her daily efforts, and a 1995 grant from St. Joseph Health Systems to buy the modular buildings, created the permanent program that now cooks up about 10,000 meals a year.  Monday through Friday, volunteers serve breakfast and a hot lunch to those who stop by in need.  Visitors also are invited to use the shower and laundry facilities and given dinner-in-a-bag to take with them.  Local churches provide Saturday breakfasts and Sunday lunches at Mary’s Kitchen.

Mary McAnena died in 2002 at the age of 100.  Mahony and his CALPASC crew say they were inspired by her legacy of community service.  Dynamic Plumbing, Lucas & Mercier Construction, Tech Power Systems, West Coast Painting and Taylor Trim and Supply all signed on to help with the project, scheduled to be completed the second week of August.  “The companies are eager to help out,” states Beth Curran, Executive Director of CALPASC OCIE.  “It’s a natural for CALPASC since we have all of the trades under one umbrella.  But the best part of this job is the heart of the contractors involved.”

Mahony estimates the demolition, repairs, replacements and refinishings will combine for a total donation of over $20,000.  “It’ll be worth it for everyone,” he promises.  “Visitors not only get a meal but a shower and a place to launder their clothes.  It just makes you feel good.”

There is no interruption in meal service while the kitchen undergoes its own planned upgrading the first week of August.  During this time, food will be served at St. Norbert’s on Taft Avenue for the few days until Mary’s Kitchen reopens, ready to continue the mission of Mary McAnena.

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you saw it where?  Oh!  On the feed bag!! 
you saw it where?  Oh!  On thefeedbag!!   Eat at Joe's  You can always buy bigger pants
you saw it where?  Oh!  On !!
you saw it where?  Oh!  On the feed bag!! 
you saw it where?  Oh!  On thefeedbag!!   Eat at Joe's You can always buy bigger pants
you saw it where?  Oh!  On !!