Vegetarians in Paradise presents the 24 Carrot Award to an outstanding person or organization that endeavors to practice or promote education, natural health, wholesome nutrition, and ecology techniques for the mutual benefit of humans, animals, and the earth.
Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to Andy Mars, a modern day philanthropist who has contributed time, energy, and himself to the benefit of young people, vegetarianism, and the community. Because Andy Mars is a man dedicated to giving of himself, he reaps many personal rewards in the process.
Those who are familiar with VEG-LA Digest have Andy to thank for managing the project as Listowner in the Los Angeles area since its inception three years ago. VEG-LA Digest is a place for vegetarians residing in the Los Angeles area to post and receive announcements of interest to the vegetarian community. The announcements publicize pot lucks, speakers, special events, cooking classes, new books, and special appearances by well-known personalities.
Although this list is automated, it does require the time and attention of a devoted volunteer like Andy, who receives no payment for his time, but performs the task because he feels a commitment to the vegetarian community.
Giving something back to his home community of Los Angeles led him to organize and direct a non-profit foundation for children called START, which stands for Students Taking Action and Responsibility Today. During weekend camp programs he offers throughout the school year, elementary and middle school age children are provided with hands-on community service opportunities.
In camp experiences that enrich the lives of the children as well as benefit the community, Andy leads his young volunteers in a number of creative programs. Some of these include bringing the children to the beach for a surveying and a beach cleaning, hiking on trails and cleaning up the trails, visiting retirement homes, helping with animals at refuges and sanctuaries, gleaning farms and bringing the fruits and vegetables to the homeless, making and serving meals to the homeless, and helping the handicapped.
In these ways Andy shares his desire to teach children to "reach out and make a difference in the world around them." He says, "We are nurturing their caring, instead of suppressing it, as is so often done in our world today."
In August the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine set up a Blood Pressure Block Party at the 3rd Street Promenade. Andy's START group helped out by serving good vegan food donated by Native Foods, a Palm Springs vegan restaurant that will soon be opening up a Westwood location.
START, in operation for five years, has been a dream of Andy's since his childhood. Enriching the lives of young children has become a satisfying, full-time occupation for him. In addition to the weekend camps, he runs Camp Exploration, the summer and winter vacation extension of START.
The summer camp provides opportunities to "take advantage of everything that L.A. has to offer and build programs where every day is truly a special day." For example, on Mondays, Andy piles 12 children and two staff members into a 15-passenger van and goes on a hiking trail.
"While we hike, we help clean the trails and make nature better for our having been there," Andy says. Other activities include a day at the beach, visiting theme parks, swimming, crafts, sports, skating, visiting Little Tokyo, and even helping with a recycling project.
During Camp Exploration's winter camp, Andy offers one week of overnighting at a ski camp and one week of travel day camp. As if these vigorous activities were not enough to keep Andy busy, he also does consulting and substituting at various schools in addition to counseling and tutoring of individual students.
Andy has been vegan for 12 years and is a life member of the North American Vegetarian Society and the American Vegan Society. At one time he was active on the Board of Trustees of the American Vegan Society, but because of his many camp responsibilities, he has had to turn over that position.
At the START camp the children are served strictly vegan foods. Those children who are vegan or vegetarian find comfort in knowing that they do not have to ask about the contents of the foods served. Since Andy doesn't make an issue of the foods, many of the non vegetarian children are not even aware of the lack of animal products. The children who find the most difficulty are those who are addicted to caffeine and processed sugar since Andy doesn't serve these at any of his camp events.
Sincere, dedicated, and upstanding are the perfect adjectives to describe Andy whose long term goals are in keeping with his involvement in camp programs. He wishes for a well-to-do philanthropist who would set up a trust to fund START so he could devote all his time and energy to expanding the camp, involving more children, having after school programs, planning more activities, and maybe even developing more chapters in other cities. "How about START as a nationwide organization!" says Andy enthusiastically.
When asked if he was married, Andy answered, "I'm still waiting (ever so patiently) for that truly special Miss Right." Obviously, Miss Right will be one who is as energetic and devoted to children as Andy is.
If you would like to give your children a special camp experience, you can e-mail Andy at this address: