Last March, PATCH (People Assisting Topanga Canyon With Helping Hands) stopped serving soup to Topanga's day laborers after residents had expressed concern about a January fire started by a homeless person cooking on a makeshift stove.
In August, however, PATCH established a hiring site for the laborers. Maryana Palmer, a PATCH volunteer, says the site has reduced the fire threat.
"Everything is more monitored now," Palmer said. "The men aren't congregating in front of the businesses as much, and the businesses like that. And we pass out literature about the dangers of fires. We are more on top of the situation."
Michelle Johnson, president of PATCH, said 15 to 50 workers use the site each weekday. Johnson said it costs $50 a month to run, with funds from private donations.
The site, named the Topanga Labor Exchange and situated across the street from the post office, opens at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, when a PATCH member arrives to serve drinking water.
At 10:15 a.m., volunteers hand out the meal, which usually consists of tortillas, fruit and a salad.
PATCH volunteers also distribute immigration information and help the workers find jobs for the day.
"The best thing we can do," Johnson said, "is advertise the site as a safe place, and as a result, we think people have come there more easily to find workers."
Johnson said the hiring site requires a manager, who would work four hours a day at $8 per hour. She said a manager may be hired within six months if enough money is collected in a local fund-raising campaign.
A manager, Johnson said, would help make sure all of the day laborers congregate at the site.
Currently, some workers remain scattered along the highway outside entrances to local businesses.