Just off the train tracks in Tehachapi, you’ll find The Shed. And most Sundays for the past two years, that’s where you’d find Milo and Layla Lujan. “Every Sunday we come here, my dad makes the soup and my sister and I set everything up and we go from there,” says Milo.
It started when the brother and sister were just 12 and 15. “We saw homeless in the street and had leftovers from the restaurant and we wanted to use it.” Their parents own Red House BBQ. Milo and Layla asked about those leftovers, scraps really, and of course their parents said yes, they could use them. They expected the teens to tire of their endeavor after a few weeks. They didn’t.
“Other families would show up to get soup and some of them would be their classmates. And they would take a step back and go, ‘I didn’t know, I’ve been going to school with this kid for years,’ and I would tell them, don’t judge, a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck. When we moved here we definitely lived paycheck to paycheck.” says their father Mano Lujan.
Those friends who came to eat, came back to help. And so did others. Milo and Layla’s idea took off. They now have their own non-profit. Layla and Milo’s Soup For the Soul Inc. This fall they were recognized with the Josiah Kids 2020 A.R. Bernard Change Agent award.
“Before the pandemic we were feeding 100-150 people,” says Layla. And while things have slowed due to lockdowns, the teens know the need is still there, now maybe more than ever. “They’re on the break of in-need. We’re giving free soup out to help them out with their food,” says Milo. “They’re excellent for the community, if it wasn’t for them the community probably wouldn’t be surviving,” says Sherry Burnett, who stopped by for a bowl of soup.
People come with genuine need, either for the soup or community. Some leave a donation to help the kids carry on, others leave just knowing someone cares. “We’ve gotten to know the community way better. We get a lot of donations from Salvation Army. We have a really great community turnout. It’s just a really great community bonding time almost,” says Layla. So if you’re ever in Tehachapi, in need of a hot meal, or just a warm welcome, you can be sure to find both, just off the train tracks, at the humble headquarters of Layla and Milo’s Soup for the Soul.
Due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the teens will be serving their soup via drive-through this Sunday, still at The Shed. You can follow along on their Facebook page, Layla and Milo’s Soup for the Soul, for updates.