You may not imagine finding young skaters, surfers and snowboarders involved in the fight against hunger. But they are thanks to a growing Santa Cruz non-profit.
In skateboarding a grind is when the skater runs the board along the lip of a ramp. At the new Grind Out Hunger Headquarters in Santa Cruz, skaters grind to raise money for local food banks. “So you know the whole thing is donating to skate. Right? This is a complete non-profit surf and skate shop,” said Danny Keith. Keith owned this former surf and skate shop on 41st Avenue for two decades, but recently decided to close it and re-open it to support his growing non-profit organization, Grind Out Hunger. Grind Out Hunger’s mission is to take kids’ interest in action sports like skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing, and use that as a way to get them involved in the fight against childhood hunger and malnutrition. “Hopefully the goal is not just paying that 2 or 3 dollars to skate, but they’re actually thinking in their mind that they’re becoming advocates for fighting hunger, they become hunger fighters,” said Keith.
At first blush the Grind Out Hunger Headquarters looks like just a cool surf and skate shop. There’s graffiti inspired art on the walls, surfboards, skateboard decks and t-shirts for sale, and about 2500 square feet of indoor skateboard ramps. But if you look closer, the merchandise features Grind Out Hunger’s logo. The art on the skateboard deck is a skater tossing food into a collection barrel. And painted on the main skateboard ramp is the logo for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County, Grind Out Hunger’s partner non-profit. “We’re really excited about our partnership with Grind Out Hunger,” said Willy Elliot-McCrea, CEO of Second Harvest. He says ever since Grind Out Hunger started coordinating the food drives in area schools donations have gone way up. “I think that we’ve seen the involvement with the schools grow by five times. So it’s been a 500 percent increase, and so you know, yes we would’ve collected some, but it would’ve been 300,000, it wouldn’t have been 1.5-million,” said McCrea. Since Danny Keith founded Grind Out Hunger nearly ten years ago, the non-profit has provided 1.5-million meals to the food bank.
15-year-old Marissa Hushaw got involved after Keith spoke at her high school. She’s raised $9000 by selling t-shirts, bracelets and stickers, and by marketing to fellow snowboarders through her own Grind Out Hunger web page. Ever hunger fighter gets a personalize web page to track and collect donations. “It’s not just selling things. It’s more of just branding. It’s a hey, this is what I do, I support Grind Out Hunger. It’s like a trend that’s not going to fade,” said Hushaw. It was Hushaw who inspired Danny Keith’s own son Zane to become a hunger fighter. He’s raised about $500. “It’s kind of mind-boggling that I get to do what I love to do, which is skateboard and sell skateboard accessories and clothing and all that and still be giving back at the same time,” said Zane Keith.
As the non-profit has grown, it’s become as much about raising money for the food bank as it has developing these kids into future leaders. “Our product here is about teaching kids about community, teaching kids about philanthropy, about teaching kids to be advocates, and then the bigger message about this whole model is they own their community, and they’re not just going to turn a blind eye when they see something,” said Keith. He expects that with the opening of the new headquarters, Grind Out Hunger will be able to double what it collects for the local food bank, and that the non-profit will expand well-beyond Santa Cruz County. “It’s a demographic that almost every non-profit has struggled to get. It’s the youth. Like how do we replace the aging donors that we have, and this is the way to do that,” said Keith. Food banks across the country have already contacted him about bringing Grind Out Hunger to their communities.