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Food From the 'Hood Starts Fresh After Theft : Crenshaw High Students Lost Their Computers but Come Out Ahead With $13,000 in Donations


Crenshaw High School students once again are savoring the success of their Food From the 'Hood salad dressing business after thieves gave them their first sour taste of reality two weeks ago.

About $8,000 worth of computer equipment, most of it donated, was stolen Oct. 5 from the company office on campus. But with the help of political and corporate allies, the students were back to business last week.

The students and their business consultant quickly put out the word that they had been hit, and in less than 48 hours donations not only paid for the damage but put them over the top with a total of $13,000.

They also got a sleek new Food From the 'Hood van, a donation they had been anticipating but whose timing gave them a boost.

"It turned out pretty good," said biology teacher Tammy Bird, who conceived Food From the 'Hood last year and works closely with students. "Actually, we came out on top overall."

The fledgling company, which has been expanding rapidly and now distributes its product nationwide, lost nearly all of its communications equipment in the theft: two hard drives, two keyboards, a printer, monitor, fax machine, camcorder and computer mouses.

"When I came in the next morning, I knew something was wrong because I didn't see the computers from across the room," said senior Ben Osborne. "I thought, 'Uh-oh, something's not right here.' "

Junior Jaynell Grayson just couldn't believe her eyes. "I thought (business consultant) Melinda McMullen had taken the computers out for some reason," she said. "Then I saw the glass broken and it was, like, I was in shock."

McMullen said that after advising local news media of the theft, she got an immediate response from 8th District Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who called to say he would do "everything within his power" to replace the lost items.

Two days after the break-in, Ridley-Thomas presented the student owners of the salad dressing business with an $8,000 check from the ticket broker company TicketMaster, whose officials also were on hand.

"It took one phone call," said Ridley-Thomas, who has supported the Crenshaw student project from its inception with funds and service donations. "They (TicketMaster) had heard of the incident and recognized the importance of helping these young entrepreneurs. Food From the 'Hood is an exemplary program. Even though they experienced losses, good can triumph."

The check was just the start. One individual who heard about the theft brought in a new fax machine to the office; another called from Long Beach to say that another fax machine was waiting to be picked up by students, with his compliments, at a local Staples office supply store.

The icing on the cake came from Nissan. At its annual employees' luncheon in Carson last week, officials presented Food From the 'Hood owners with another unexpected check, this time for $5,000.

The money was in addition to Nissan's gift of a Quest minivan custom-painted with the colorful "Food From the 'Hood" logo on its sides, something that had already been in the works. The van the group had been using to transport its product to farmers markets and local stores was on loan from RLA and due back in December.

"This group just embodies everything we want to support--entrepreneurship, self-development," said Nissan spokesman Don Spetner. "It's a great organization. They deserved it."

McMullen, shouting over the sound of drilling as school district workers installed an alarm system last week, said she and the students have been working nonstop to reload data lost in the theft--which was everything. Students have been helping McMullen go through shipping receipts and financial records to input information into the new and upgraded computers, which they lost no time in buying.

"We can't re-create everything, but we're trying," she said. "We're getting there."

* FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Crenshaw teacher Tammy Bird and student Jaynell Grayson talk about Food From the 'Hood. Pages 22-23

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