During the pandemic, Los Angeles County and its nonprofit partners supplied food and meals to an expanding number of residents who couldn’t afford groceries, often went without food or were anxious about how they’d feed their families.
While the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, the issue of hunger and food insecurity in the county has not gone away. In fact, statistics show the problem has gotten worse.
Today, about one million county households are food insecure, up from 553,000 households in 2021, according to research from the USC Dornsife Public Exchange. The report says that among low-income households of color, not having enough food to eat “is the worst it has been in 10 years.”
“The worst of the pandemic is behind us, but hunger and food insecurity aren’t,” said Fourth District Supervisor and board chair Janice Hahn in a prepared statement.
For these reasons, the board voted unanimously last week to establish an L.A. County Office of Food Equity, to better connect county social service departments and free food programs with state and federal food assistance. The new department aims to create more farmer’s markets, food co-ops and urban farms — especially in areas known as fresh food deserts.
Not having enough to eat, and not having access to healthy foods occurs predominantly in these geographic areas of the county: Antelope Valley, East Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles unincorporated areas and South Los Angeles neighborhoods, the county reported.
Executive chef Zach Chambers, of Caltech Dining, shows a head of butter lettuce from Caltech’s Chandler Cafe’s roof garden on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. The aeroponic towers are growing greens, mixed lettuces, chills, eggplants, onions and herbs with the help of LA Urban Farms. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
Using a plan developed by the L.A. County Food Equity Roundtable, the new county department will work toward the following goals: removing roadblocks that prevent urban farms from springing up in residential communities through zoning changes; giving a hand to local food entrepreneurs; providing easier access to nonprofit and government food assistance programs; and reducing the amount of food wasted by adding more food recovery/distribution sites.
Regarding access to food assistance, the Westside Food Bank is not having any difficulty finding partakers.
The agency, which serves West L.A., Central L.A., South L.A. and the South Bay, has experienced a dramatic rise at its food giveaway sites. The nonprofit is distributing more food in 2023 than in its 40-year history, the agency wrote in remarks to the board.
The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank is providing 800,000 meals per month, up about 9% compared to 2022.
“We know the need has only grown, particularly for communities of color who lack access to fresh food,” said Third District Supervisor Lindsey Horvath in a prepared statement. “The Office of Food Equity will build on this successful public-private partnership model to continue to provide nutritious food to residents who are counting on us.”
For two years, nonprofits and community-based organizations in the roundtable have been meeting regularly, forging partnerships and continuing programs. But even after these frontline organizations completed food giveaways in 2020 and 2021, the roundtable group said the efforts were at times rudderless.
“There was no central coordination point addressing food insecurity in our communities,” said Cinny Kennard, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation and co-chair of the food equity roundtable group. “To have a coordination point in our region that will stay laser-focused on this will make all the difference in the world.”
In about three months, the supervisors will receive a detailed plan from its staff that will focus on staffing the new Office of Food Equity and how it will work.
Meanwhile, the roundtable will continue to meet and point out areas of concern, Kennard said.
Many parts of the county do not have adequate grocery stores, and food assistance programs are not reaching those in need in certain communities, Kennard said. These structural deficiencies are compounded by inflationary pressures, affecting young and older residents alike, she said.
“There is an elderly population having trouble with getting access to food. For some children, their one meal a day is at school. We can’t have a society like that,” Kennard said.
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