Local philanthropist Justin Myers dishes on his involvement with the community and his new role at Laguna Food Pantry
By Ashley Ryan
Justin Myers, a Laguna resident and young mover and shaker, was recently named the first part-time director of Laguna Food Pantry, making him the organization’s first paid employee as well. Before becoming involved with the nonprofit, Myers studied international business at Orange Coast College and Chapman University. His degree has led to work as an operations manager for a local business, a subcontractor for the U.S. Department of Defense and the manager of a private winery, before starting his own event planning and catering company in town.
Myers, who is passionate about giving back and dedicating his time to those in need, has also been involved with The Friends of Dorothy Guild—a fundraising organization for the AIDS Services Foundation—as well as the Southern California Hospice Foundation and the Orange County Food Bank, among countless other area nonprofit organizations. And though he’s turned his attention to Laguna Food Pantry as its new leader, it’s clear that the philanthropist is making a far-reaching impact in town—and he’s only just getting started.
What role does Laguna Food Pantry play in our community?
Justin Myers: The Laguna Food Pantry provides free, fresh [and] nutritious groceries to people [in Laguna Beach and its surrounding communities] who are in need.
How did you become involved with the organization?
I saw a post on Facebook that they were looking for a part-time person to serve as a director, and it most certainly piqued my interest. I love giving back to our community and with my catering experience and [the] volunteer time I have given to other … organizations, it seemed like an ideal place to be.
What are some of your most memorable moments while working with Laguna Food Pantry?
For me, it is seeing the families come in and shop, their little children helping to pick out the groceries and seeing their faces light up.
What are your specific goals for the organization?
My goal is to bring more awareness of what we do and why there is a need for it in our community. So many people question if there is really a need for a food pantry in Laguna. We serve [low-income] families from all walks of life. We want all of our shoppers to have an enjoyable and dignified shopping experience in a safe and clean environment.
What do you feel is Laguna Food Pantry’s greatest accomplishment thus far?
The number of people we serve on a weekly basis. On average, we serve 300 families a week.
What has been the biggest challenge that the organization has faced thus far?
As with any nonprofit organization, there is an ongoing need for volunteers—specifically individuals to help with pick-ups of the groceries we rescue from area stores.
How did you get started as a volunteer in your community, and with what other local organizations have you worked?
My mother was [a] very active part of the Nicole Brown Simpson Charitable Foundation when I was younger, so I naturally was “voluntold” to help her. [Later], I traveled to Okazaki, Japan in middle school as an exchange student with the Newport Beach Sister City Association … in 1996, and [I] continue my involvement with them today. I served on their board of directors as a youth representative and a full board member for a combined 12 years. While being a part of the Newport Beach Sister City [Association] board, the French Consulate contacted me about Laguna Beach starting a program with Menton, France [alongside partnerships with St. Ives, England and San José del Cabo, Mexico]. From there I joined the Laguna Beach Sister Cities [Association] and now, eight years later, I am their president.
As a part of the Laguna Beach Sister Cities [Association], I met their founding president, Karyn Philippsen, who also served on the board of directors for Visit Laguna Beach. While working with Karyn, she asked if I would be interested in joining her on the 90th anniversary committee for the Laguna Playhouse, and next thing I knew I was asked to join the board of trustees of the Laguna Playhouse. Through Karyn I also joined the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library and more recently, have been working to resurrect a Lions Club here in Laguna, [which has since been re-established].
What inspires you to give back?
I have been very fortunate in life to have a wonderful family and amazing support system to guide me. If I have ever been in need, I have always had someone there for me. So many people do not have that same experience and have to worry about how they are going to put gas in their car or where they will get their next meal. I hope I can help provide exceptional experiences and energy for those I come in contact with and have a meaningful impact on their life.