In the middle of the Arts District, hidden behind a heavy black door, there is a bridge. It looks like a garden, complete with planter boxes, sandy decomposed granite underfoot, mature fruit trees reaching into the open air; there’s even a cinder block grill at one end, soon to be shaded by a permanent pergola. For Othón Nolasco and Damian Diaz, the faces behind pandemic-born mutual aid nonprofit No Us Without You, the 2,200-square-foot rectangular space is known simply as Finca Tachibana.
In a way, the lot — formerly an overflow holding area for a nearby towing company — is just dust, dirt, and a little irrigation, but for Nolasco and Diaz, it represents the formation of a future and the work they want to continue to do.
At the height of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic Nolasco and Diaz turned their attention away from a lifetime of bartending and consulting to feeding undocumented essential workers and their families through their charitable organization No Us Without You. It’s been a hard year and a half, to say the least, but the pair have been buoyed by big media profiles, enduring donations, and volunteers who show up every week to load boxes and hand out meals to upwards of 1,600 families a week. They have a formal nonprofit now and they know a lot more about the people they’ve been helping to feed — specifically, their needs.
Enter Finca Tachibana, a garden and event space that will take No Us Without You from its place on the streets, changing food pickup locations weekly, to the nonprofit’s future. The plan is to make Finca Tachibana a hub for donations to street vendors, hosting large-scale public events as well as dinners and raffles that put money directly back into the pockets of people who (still) need it.
“This place can do two things,” says Nolasco, stooping low to find some shade. “It can provide some food for families, yes, but it can also be a call to action.” The idea is to use Finca Tachibana to host ticketed events that filter money back to undocumented workers. An out-of-town chef, say, could pop up at the space, throwing a grill and garden dinner that raises thousands of dollars. Nolasco and Diaz take some of that money to continue their mission, and the chef returns home with money for their own cause. And then there are the one-off buyouts from brands, or even private engagement parties and birthday dinners. It’s all money in the door that will be put to good use.
Diaz and Nolasco have wanted to create a nonprofit since 2018, but they admit they never envisioned becoming mutual aid pioneers in their own hometowns. Now, backed by big investments by groups like United Way, and with a little bit of help from the industry they love, they’re going on in on building permanent, enduring structures for help and change.
“It’s easy to worry about ourselves,” says Nolasco. “That’s self-preservation. But if you don’t worry about anyone else, what gets lost?” Diaz puts it even more simply: “The idea of someone praying for help? You get to literally be the miracle they’re praying for. That’s everything.”
Greg Bleier of Studio UNLTD, known for building some of LA’s most beautiful restaurants like Bavel and Otium, stepped in to offer design services for an incoming shipping container bar; designer Steve Siegrist and his team worked to turn the lot into a photo-friendly backdrop for giving. “We’re never afraid to ask for help,” says Diaz, “because we know where this help is going. It’s not for us. It’s never for us. We’re the vessels.” The Bacchanal team out of New Orleans was next, offering to partner with No Us Without You for one of its first (and biggest) events, with plans to sell raffle tickets that will not only benefit the Finca Tachibana vision, but also relief efforts for workers and others in New Orleans, which is still emerging from the recent wreckage of Hurricane Ida. Future events will include local chefs and bartenders, plus other friends the pair have made from across the country — as long as the focus stays on giving back, supporting others, and moving forward.
“In the grand scheme of things,” says Nolasco, “we’re nobodies, at least in terms of finances. But we’re so rich in friends.” Together, the pair have cultivated a community up and down the industry food chain, and they see similarities in need (and willingness to help) everywhere, at least from most people. Diaz says they have little time for social media accounts offering thoughts and prayers and nothing else meaningful when families are still in need.
“We don’t feel bad for calling people out,” says Diaz. “It has nothing to do with us. It’s about the families.” Nolasco agrees. “There were a lot of people before the shutdown, where I would have thought, ‘I’d love to work with them,’” he says. “Now I don’t even care. I mean, almost nothing has changed in our industry.”
“We have to think bigger,” says Diaz. So together they built a bridge, starting from the streets and moving, soon, to long-term giving that — on its face — looks like a garden party in the Arts District.
“It started with the food, but we want to take it further.”
Details on Finca Tachibana’s upcoming raffled private event with Bacchanal Wine out of New Orleans can be found here.