The Madd Love Language of Food: UTEC

In the words of Cesar Chavez, “The people who give you their food give you their heart.” 

By that measure, the youth-founded nonprofit UTEC is truly serving up Madd Love to the community.

For the second year in a row, Gaining Ground is proud to support the Madd Love Meals program at UTEC, a weekly delivery of free groceries throughout Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill that nourishes about 120 households experiencing food insecurity. 

Altogether, UTEC estimates that 3,500 people are served each year, including members of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (CMAA), unhoused women, and a significant elderly population. UTEC youth, including those with young children, also receive Madd Love boxes and scratch-cooked meals that incorporate our produce. 

“We usually provide two family-sized boxes per household, meant to feed one young adult and three of their family members for a whole week,” said Gianghi LeNguyen, UTEC’s Enterprise Assistant. 

Last season, we were able to supply the organization with 3,552 pounds of fresh, locally grown produce. In 2024, based on rising need in the community and the success of our pilot collaboration, Gaining Ground seeks to double that amount. 


We’re thrilled that UTEC will receive produce from Gaining Ground every week this season, compared with every other week in 2023—a change requested by the organization during a site visit last fall.

The partnership we share means that recipients of Madd Love Meals receive more than pantry staples, but also fruits, vegetables, and herbs that were recently harvested less than 20 miles down the road. 

“We never really provided herbs before—it was always basics, like potatoes, which provide important nourishment and which we bought in from vendors with grant funding,” Gianghi said. “But the Gaining Ground produce—items like the beautiful Bok choy—are special. People say they inspire them to make new dishes.”

In 2024, the skilled farm crew on Virginia Road will grow two new crops with UTEC in mind:  ginger and turmeric.  

“We serve a lot of Cambodian young adults,” Gianghi said, “and the vegetables you provide are often pertinent to their cuisine.” 


Founded by youth for youth in 1999, UTEC helps young people in Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill overcome the challenges of poverty, gang involvement, and unemployment through a dynamic range of services that uplift and engage entire families. 

Their motto is, “Trading violence and poverty for social and economic success.” To that end, UTEC provides high school diploma support, woodshop and carpentry education, community organizing and policy training, and culinary skills training—including a food truck that launches this year! 

“It’s been in the works for a long, long time,” Gianghi said. 

Although Gaining Ground produce won’t be on the menu—ensuring that it goes to people who cannot afford fresh food—the mobile restaurant will reinforce the transformative relationship between self-determination and food, through the lens of running a businesses, as youth develop a menu, cook, learn to operate a point-of-sale system,, and serve customers.

The young people who come to UTEC for education and career training represent all walks of life. About 9 in 10 have been justice involved, 7 in 10 have been gang involved, and 5 in 10 are expecting a child or actively parenting. At UTEC they build their resilience in community as they navigate housing, careers, financial decisions, and more.

Thanks to Madd Love Meals, food assistance is one extra challenge they don’t have to worry about. 

“As more and more youth come to us for help, we’re so grateful that we can jampack the boxes with produce from Gaining Ground,” Gianghi said.

Gaining Ground offers special thanks to the Greater Lowell Community Foundation for supporting our 2023 work with UTEC, and to the Foundation for Sustainability and Innovation for a grant that enabled us to provide round-trip transportation to UTEC staff and youth to visit the farm in 2023. 

To learn more about UTEC, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, visit

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