Women of Larchmont: Sherry Bonanno

| July 27, 2023 | 0 Comments

By John Welborne

We first published the annual Women of Larchmont special section during the third year of the Larchmont Chronicle, the enterprise that Jane Gilman and Dawne Goodwin founded in 1963. On the cover of its first Women of Larchmont section, the paper stated: “This annual section is a tribute to these women, who, through their gifts of time, money, ideas and talent have enriched our city.” Noble and accurate thoughts then — and now!

So, here we are today, still sharing proudly the stories of amazing local women and what they do for the community. (In the 2020 special section, we sought to list all of the “Women of Larchmont” for the first 55 years. Visit that issue here: tinyurl.com/5nrk7ens.)

Photos by Bill Devlin

Sherry Bonanno: Feeding, sheltering homeless for 23 years

By Suzan Filipek

Sherry Bonanno is passionate about feeding the poor, the homeless, the hungry. After all, everyone has to eat every day.

Serving a meal is also a way in, a means to share a smile or a kindness, to gain trust and maybe even help someone find shelter and address a myriad of other needs.

“Food is the connection to me. We look at food as an entry to other things.”

Bonanno joined the Hollywood Food Coalition (HoFoCo) in 2000, when it was all-volunteer and called the Food Coalition.

She soon found serving food was only a small part of what was on the menu.

She’s helped people down on their luck find shelter, such as one man who was dropped off on a Friday night in a wheelchair with nowhere to go.

Bonanno managed to find the 60ish-year-old gentleman a hotel room, then wrangled through months of bureaucracy to settle him in low-cost housing, where he resides today.

“We’re an emergency need provider,” she explains. “We provide food every night.” HoFoCo offers about 200 meals per night, plus weekly medical care, and they recently got a grant for a wellness program.

Bonanno’s journey to HoFoCo began as a way to broaden her two young sons’ horizons outside the bubble of their Brookside home and surrounding community.

Roots in Panama
Bonanno grew up in Panama, where her father was a sea captain on the Panama Canal. Colorful ceramics and other artifacts she acquired in her teenage years in Central America fill her 1925 Spanish Colonial Revival home.

She loved the tropical country, where she remembers feeling safe, including on her travels outside of the American enclave where she lived.

Bonnano also likes to cook, so it seemed natural to begin at HoFoCo as part of the Wednesday crew cooking meals with repurposed food from restaurants, grocery stores and farms, among other sources.

Bonanno has donned many hats, from cooking meals to serving multiple terms as board president at the group now headquartered at the Salvation Army campus on Hollywood Boulevard.

Like many who arrive in Los Angeles, Bonanno had not planned to stay when she came to attend USC, where she graduated with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. (Her husband, Tom Dunlap, is a retired attorney.)

After graduation, she worked and volunteered at her boys’ schools — Echo Horizon and Windward — and she was involved with the Ebell of Los Angeles. In the beginning, her forays to HoFoCo were one night per week.

As her children grew, “I started doing more. I didn’t set out to run the Hollywood Food Coalition. I’m just a good volunteer,” she laughs.

She later was hired as HoFoCo’s first salaried executive director just prior to the pandemic, in 2020.

She passed the baton to Arnali Ray in 2022. “She’s been phenomenal,” Bonanno says, adding that Ray’s years of experience will help the Coalition move to the next stage.

“It’s a strategic move. You can only grow and organize so much with an all-volunteer crew,” explains Bonanno, who will continue as an advisor on special projects.

Special projects
Her ongoing projects at HoFoCo include ridding the program of much of the complicated layers of bureaucracy.

“I’ve always wanted to serve the community better and not to have such an institutional feel where there’s a lot of rules and paperwork.

“Part of the point is to make it no-barrier. If you need help, come here and let’s see what we can do to start helping you.”

Bonanno is also seeking a site for a warehouse to hold the rescued food in HoFoCo’s Community Exchange program, which has grown from recovering 248,000 pounds a year to 3 million pounds annually since COVID-19.

Right now, a generous landlord has temporarily donated a vacated warehouse on Vine Street.

In semi-retirement, Bonanno works in her garden, which has benefited from landscape and architecture and horticulture classes she has taken at UCLA. And she’s readying to paint over the yellow shade in the hallway.

“I like to do a lot of stuff myself… I always have projects.”

While her boundless energy has simmered in recent years, she’s added reading up on homelessness to her projects, to better learn what works and what doesn’t.

One thing she’s found that works is kindness. And she’s also learned that people are complicated. “When you start hearing the stories, you realize each journey is so different. People want to be accepted and cared about.

“Your job is to value them as a human being and to be kind to them. We don’t stand a chance if we don’t create trust… that’s where it starts…”

As for her two sons? They’ve moved on to their own careers, probably with a broader worldview, thanks to accompanying their mom to HoFoCo.

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Category: People

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