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Hollywood’s “Brown Bag Lady” serves up fresh food and friendship to the unhoused communities of Los Angeles

brown bag lady
Photos from Jacqueline Norvell

Compassion, served.

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Compassion comes in many forms. Sometimes it looks like stopping to jumpstart a stranger’s car. Other times it’s volunteering time or donating. For Jacqueline Norvell, compassion looks like a delicious prepared lunch served in a brown paper bag.

Since 2014, Norvell, aka “Brown Bag Lady,” has arrived on the first Sunday of every month to hand out food and supplies to the homeless communities of Skid Row. Without fail.

Yes, even with the pandemic, she and her team have never missed a Sunday. During the first few months of COVID-19, everyone showed up in hazmat suits to serve.

The idea for Brown Bag Lady was sparked when Norvell was leaving a basketball game in Downtown Los Angeles. She took a wrong turn, putting her on Skid Row–one of L.A.’s biggest “tent cities” with a population estimated at 8,000 people.


This was around Christmas time, in the dead of winter. Los Angeles might be known for never-ending sunshine, but its winter nights are not forgiving. People were huddled together just trying to keep warm. Norvell, compelled to help after what she saw, used the holiday bonus from her corporate job, made 70 meals, and came back. The food was gone in five minutes.

What started out as a random act of kindness during the holiday season became a year-round cause. As an official nonprofit organization, Brown Bag Lady has helped feed more than 75,000 people, partnered with major brands including Vans and Lay’s, and has garnered the attention of Kelly Clarkson and Ellen Degeneres.

They even have a fully decked-out camo minivan with a mission statement painted along its sides: “Feeding the Body….Nourishing the Soul.”

Norvell credits social media as a major contributor to the nonprofit’s now enormous presence.

“Through Facebook and Instagram, we have been able to promote what we do by telling our story through pictures and video,” she explained. “We hope that all of our efforts and all of our hard work are relayed with compassion and love. I do not have a professional social media person. Every photo and every video that is posted, I tell the story myself.”

She added that thanks to the two platforms, items are purchased from all over the country and sent to BBL’s headquarters in Los Angeles. Plus many invitations for news appearances have come straight from her DMs. Like she said, no professional needed. Just letting social media work its magic.

Though Brown Bag Lady is becoming a widespread phenomenon throughout California, the personal touch is ever-present.

Each brown bag still features a lovely inspirational quote to deliver some hope along with sustenance.

Barbers stand for hours cutting hair for free, offering people that priceless feeling of self esteem.

Underserved schools receive backpacks full of important supplies, personally delivered.

Toiletry bags get filled with soap, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner and distributed along with food. (Considering hygiene is identified as a contributor to mental health for unhoused individuals, this is a big one.)

And don’t let the name fool you. The food is not your typical brown bag lunch with cold PB&J sandwiches. Nothing is ever canned or frozen. There’s a strict rule of “always fresh, always delicious.”

Norvell is also not some distant caregiver. “I try to fulfill as many needs as possible,” she told Upworthy. “If someone requests something specific I go buy it, and then I put their photo on the bag so I remember the next time that I see them.”

Below is an example of what her dining room looks like.

Coming to the same street corner year after year has allowed her to forge actual friendships with those she helps—many even have her cellphone number. To this day, she still credits this as being the best part of what she and her team does.

The more her organization grows, the bigger Norvell's aspirations get. The ultimate goal, she says, is to own a building with a commercial sized kitchen to allow for weekly meals, in addition to more space so that mental health services can be provided.

In the meantime, Brown Bag Lady’s latest project is reuniting foster siblings for a one-week sleep-away summer camp. It’s a perfect example of how social media can help bring people together to bring a big vision to life.

By posting photos to the Brown Bag Lady Instagram and Facebook page, more than 11,000 followers were made aware of a special Amazon wish list that includes items such as pillows, sleeping bags and hygiene kits for potential campers. Not only did this make it possible to spread the word, but people near and far could be part of the movement virtually. So far, the collective efforts have raised close to $30,000. Wow.

It seems like no dream is impossible for Norvell and the Brown Bag Lady crew. Just like their van promises, the team is serving up some true nourishment for the soul.

If you’d like to follow along the Brown Bag Lady journey, check out the Facebook and Instagram pages here and here.

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10 anti-holiday recipes that prove the season can be tasty and healthy

Balance out heavy holiday eating with some lighter—but still delicious—fare.

Albertson's

Lighten your calorie load with some delicious, nutritious food between big holiday meals.

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The holiday season has arrived with its cozy vibe, joyous celebrations and inevitable indulgences. From Thanksgiving feasts to Christmas cookie exchanges to Aunt Eva’s irresistible jelly donuts—not to mention leftover Halloween candy still lingering—fall and winter can feel like a non-stop gorge fest.

Total resistance is fairly futile—let’s be real—so it’s helpful to arm yourself with ways to mitigate the effects of eating-all-the-things around the holidays. Serving smaller amounts of rich, celebratory foods and focusing on slowly savoring the taste is one way. Another is to counteract those holiday calorie-bomb meals with some lighter fare in between.

Contrary to popular belief, eating “light” doesn’t have to be tasteless, boring or unsatisfying. And contrary to common practice, meals don’t have to fill an entire plate—especially when we’re trying to balance out heavy holiday eating.

It is possible to enjoy the bounties of the season while maintaining a healthy balance. Whether you prefer to eat low-carb or plant-based or gluten-free or everything under the sun, we’ve got you covered with these 10 easy, low-calorie meals from across the dietary spectrum.

Each of these recipes has less than 600 calories (most a lot less) per serving and can be made in less than 30 minutes. And Albertsons has made it easy to find O Organics® ingredients you can put right in your shopping cart to make prepping these meals even simpler.

Enjoy!

eggs and green veggies in a skillet, plate of baconNot quite green eggs and ham, but closeAlbertsons

Breakfast Skillet of Greens, Eggs & Ham

273 calories | 20 minutes

Ingredients:

1 (5 oz) pkg baby spinach

2 eggs

1 clove garlic

4 slices prosciutto

1/2 medium yellow onion

1 medium zucchini squash

1/8 cup butter, unsalted

1 pinch crushed red pepper

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

bow of cauliflower ham saladGet your cauliflower power on.Albertsons

Creamy Cauliflower Salad with Ham, Celery & Dill

345 calories | 20 minutes

1/2 medium head cauliflower

1 stick celery

1/4 small bunch fresh dill

8 oz. ham steak, boneless

1/2 shallot

1/4 tspblack pepper

1/4 tsp curry powder

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp garlic powder

3 Tbsp mayonnaise

1/8 tsp paprika

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

tofu on skewers on a plate with coleslawPlant-based food fan? This combo looks yums. Albertsons

Grilled Chili Tofu Skewers with Ranch Cabbage, Apple & Cucumber Slaw

568 calories | 20 minutes

1 avocado

1/2 English cucumber

1 (12 oz.) package extra firm tofu

1 Granny Smith apple

3 Tbsp (45 ml) Ranch dressing

1/2 (14 oz bag) shredded cabbage (coleslaw mix)

2 tsp chili powder

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

frittata in a cast iron skilletSometimes you just gotta frittata.Albertsons

Bell Pepper, Olive & Sun-Dried Tomato Frittata with Parmesan

513 calories | 25 minutes

6 eggs

1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted

2 oz Parmesan cheese

1 red bell pepper

1/2 medium red onion

8 sundried tomatoes, oil-packed

1/4 tsp black pepper

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

plate with slices of grilled chicken and a caprese saladCaprese, if you please.Albertsons

Balsamic Grilled Chicken with Classic Caprese Salad

509 calories | 25 minutes

3/4 lb chicken breasts, boneless skinless

1/2 small pkg fresh basil

1/2 (8 oz pkg) fresh mozzarella cheese

1 clove garlic

3 tomatoes

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

4 3/4 pinches black pepper

1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

3/4 tsp salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

four stuffed mushrooms on a plateThese mushrooms look positively poppable.Albertsons

Warm Goat Cheese, Parmesan & Sun-Dried Tomato Stuffed Mushrooms

187 calories | 35 minutes

1/2 lb cremini mushrooms

1 clove garlic

1/2 (4 oz) log goat cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

2 sundried tomatoes, oil-packed

1 1/4 pinches crushed red pepper

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp Italian seasoning

2 pinches salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

plate with open English muffin with goat cheese and sliced baby tomatoes on topMove over, avocado toast. English muffin pizzas have arrived.Albertsons

English Muffin Pizzas with Basil Pesto, Goat Cheese & Tomatoes

327 calories | 10 minutes

3 Tbsp (45 ml) basil pesto

2 English muffins

1/2 (4 oz) log goat cheese

1/2 pint grape tomatoes

3/4 pinch black pepper

2 pinches salt

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

pita pocket on a plate filled with veggies, meat and cheeseThis pita pocket packs a colorful punch.Albertsons

Warm Pita Pocket with Turkey, Cheddar, Roasted Red Peppers & Parsley

313 calories | 20 minutes

1/4 (8 oz) block cheddar cheese

1/2 bunch Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

4 oz oven roasted turkey breast, sliced

1/2 (12 oz) jar roasted red bell peppers

1 whole grain pita

3/4 pinch black pepper

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp mayonnaise

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

plate with toast smeared with avocado and topped with prosciuttoDid we say, "Move over, avocado toast?" What we meant was "Throw some prosciutto on it!" Albertsons

Avocado Toast with Crispy Prosciutto

283 calories | 10 minutes

1 avocado

2 slices prosciutto

2 slices whole grain bread

1 5/8 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp onion powder

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

bowl of chili with cheese and green onions on topVegetarian chili with a fall twistAlbertsons

Black Bean & Pumpkin Chili with Cheddar

444 calories | 30 minutes

2 (15 oz can) black beans

1/2 (8 oz ) block cheddar cheese

2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

2 green bell peppers

1 small bunch green onions (scallions)

1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin purée

1 medium yellow onion

1/2 tsp black pepper

5 7/8 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp cumin, ground

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil

Find full instructions and shopping list here.

For more delicious and nutritious recipes, visit albertsons.com/recipes.

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