LOS ANGELES – Life hasn’t always been easy for Michael “BigMike” Straumietis. He lived in poverty as a child, and as a young man spent considerable time rebuilding his life — and re-rebuilding his life — every time the feds cracked down on cannabis. The cannabis industry went legit in California more than twenty years ago and Straumietis now sits at the helm of the cultivation-supplies giant he founded, Advanced Nutrients … but he still hasn’t forgotten how it feels to be homeless and hungry.
On November 10, Straumietis rounded up Advanced Nutrients team members and a gang of other civic-minded cannabis industry folks to provide aid and comfort to some of the homeless and hungry in Los Angeles. The sixth annual Holiday Heroes brigade assembled and delivered 1,500 backpacks filled with critical personal protection and hygiene items including toothbrushes, deodorant, body wash, blankets, first aid kits, and hand-squeeze flashlights.
Straumietis launched Holiday Heroes in Bulgaria in 2012, giving families in need packages of food and other critical supplies through door-to-door visits. The organization has served more than 30,000 Bulgarian families to date. He brought the program to the United States in 2016, when he and a team of volunteers, including Advanced Nutrients staff, handed out backpacks full of essential supplies to homeless individuals and families in L.A. Since then, Holiday Heroes has grown: Last Christmas, the operation provided more than $100,000 worth of necessary supplies to people in need.
This year, Holiday Heroes celebrated Veterans Day and Thanksgiving together by working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to distribute the backpacks to homeless veterans. In addition, the program delivered other much-needed supplies to Downtown Women’s Center, Homeboy Industries, United Rescue Mission, United Rescue Mission Hope Gardens, and the homeless population of L.A.’s Skid Row.
“When I first walked through Skid Row, I saw firsthand all the challenges the homeless community faces,” said Straumietis, who, as a child, often went without meals. “I believe a corporation should give directly back to the community that supports it. I’ve been on the opposite side of poverty, and it’s a reason why Holiday Heroes is so dear to my heart.”
Working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to give back to the community on Veterans Day represented a deliberate choice to honor U.S. heroes, Straumietis said.
“I have immense respect for the brave men and women who choose to serve our country,” he said. “And I want to show my gratitude by serving the L.A. community with the resources I have. We can all give something to make life better for others.”
(All photos by Kevin Guardado.)