live / 2014

SFCLA - Serving Hope and Veggies where LA needs it most!

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by St. Francis Center

Eliminate Los Angeles’ food deserts by ensuring low-income families have free access to fresh produce and nutritious groceries.

Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

St. Francis Center’s mission is to feed, serve, and walk with the poor as a community of hope in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • East Hollywood

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Our idea for LA2050: SFCLA will deliver free groceries rich in fresh produce to communities where fresh food is scarce, improving the health of LA one neighborhood at a time.

The health and wellness of far too many families in Los Angeles are being impeded by a lack of access to fresh, nutritious food. The prevalence of food deserts in LA – impoverished neighborhoods with limited access to affordable, fresh produce – is alarming. It is an unjust reality that in our society, fresh fruits and vegetables are not readily accessible by all, that the most basic of foods that protect our health are a rarity for the poor. St. Francis Center (SFCLA) wants to ensure that healthy food is accessible to all regardless of neighborhood and income.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

SFCLA will open access to nutritious groceries and fresh produce at three geographically and culturally diverse food deserts in Los Angeles: East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and East Hollywood. Fortunately, SFCLA has the expertise and infrastructure already in place at its headquarters downtown to implement the project with relative ease. Our 600 square foot refrigerator can house thousands of pounds of fresh produce and perishable items, and SFCLA already owns two delivery trucks. By rotating produce in and out of our refrigeration system at a higher frequency as we expand service to more areas, we will maximize the freshness and amount of food that is available to the people we serve. It is a win-win for all involved!

To get the project up and running, SFCLA and parish staff and volunteers will commit to a set schedule that can be advertised to the public and relied upon by the community. We’d like to note that our partners, the 3 Franciscan parishes of Los Angeles, share SFCLA’s philosophy of serving any person in need, without judgment or religious consideration, and without any type of obligation in return.
SFCLA has a large and dedicated volunteer base that helps cook and serve meals, organize and distribute donations of food and clothing, and even provide administrative assistance. Whether they are part of a volunteer organization, from a local high school, or individuals with a heart for their community, SFCLA has historically and consistently been fueled by the efforts of dedicated volunteers. Last year, SFCLA engaged more than 2,100 volunteers in nearly 20,000 hours of service, which is equivalent to having 10 full-time employees! We will be delighted to put more volunteers into service to help drive our expansion. It is community helping community to make Los Angeles a healthier place.

How will your idea/project help make LA the healthiest place to LIVE today? In 2050?

SFCLA’s fresh produce pantry project will help make LA the healthiest place to live today by providing free groceries filled with fresh produce and balanced, nutritious ingredients, many of which are hard to come by at other pantries. Our high-tech refrigeration system will allow us to receive donations of fresh meat and dairy and deliver them to the sites safely. We will start service on a bi-weekly basis and transition to weekly service by the fourth quarter of the grant year.

For many people in Los Angeles, the terms “vegan”, “gluten-free”, and “organic” are familiar terms that describe a lifestyle that is health-conscious. These labels can be found in the grocery stores where they shop, at the farmers markets they visit, and the restaurants they frequent. This concept is so common that the idea of living a nutrition-centered life is indelibly linked to the personality of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, for too many families in our county, access to healthy groceries and fresh produce is NOT a reality. The reality for many low-income families is that large grocery stores and their vast selections and lower prices can be few and far between. The groceries and produce they do have access to are of poor quality or are over-priced. As a result, many meals come from fast food restaurants that are inexpensive or are made from ingredients that lack nutritional value. Anyone who has been to a grocery store has seen that you can get a bag of Cheetos for $1.50 but it costs a family twice that amount for a meager bag of spinach.

Our project will help make LA the healthiest place to live in 2050 by ensuring the long-term health and well-being of LA’s residents. Providing groceries and produce to families in need is not only about sustenance, but about the long-term effects of improving the health of a family. Often times, diseases like diabetes can be avoided when children are given fruits and vegetables instead of fast food or processed treats that come so cheap. While a fresh salad to many in Los Angeles is just another meal, it can make all the difference to a child who needs those nutrients to develop properly. By giving all Angelenos the resources they need to live healthy lives, we are investing in our society as a whole.

Whom will your project benefit?

This project will benefit extremely low-income families, youth, seniors, veterans, and disabled adults in Boyle Heights, East Hollywood, East Los Angeles and downtown LA. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,550, but families who utilize SFCLA’s current pantry services have an average monthly income of only $1,020, HALF the federal poverty level (SFCLA 2013 internal census).

88% of pantry participants at our downtown LA center self-identify as Hispanic or Latino, 9% as African American or Black, 2% as Caucasian or White, and 1% as Asian.

Extremely low incomes combined with Los Angeles’ expensive housing market means that the majority of our guests’ income is going to shelter.

Currently, SFCLA provides fresh produce and groceries to 400 families per week - over 20,000 families a year. This satellite pantry project will allow SFCLA to increase the number of families served to at least 600 per week, or 30,000 annually by the end of the grant period. This is a 50% increase in the number of families SFCLA serves annually!

“With my family, we began to eat more vegetables and fruits. Instead we eat at home more instead of take out. We read more labels on foods.” - Anna, 15 years old.

As a nation with so many resources and such an abundance of wealth, it is IMPERATIVE that we see the future prosperity of our society as an issue that is rooted in the well-being of all citizens, no matter their tax-bracket.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

SFCLA has the confirmed partnership of the Franciscan parishes of Our Lady of Victory, Assumption, and Saint Francis of Assisi. These 3 parishes bring a unique awareness to the partnership: that of the specific trials, needs, concerns, and hopes of the communities they serve. The history of working to meet their constituent’s spiritual needs is now being translated into our combined efforts to meet the physical needs of their parishioners. Because the parishes serve as vibrant community centers in these neighborhoods, they are ideal locations for distributing groceries to those in need.

We have longstanding partnerships with many food suppliers – from large chain stores to regional food banks – that donate the food we distribute. Last year, SFCLA distributed over 1.1 MILLION pounds of food, the vast majority of it donated. Some of our key partners include Lucky Supermarkets, LA Food Bank, Heart of Compassion, and Food Finders.

Every month new volunteers join our existing rank of hundreds. Half of our volunteers come as individuals, half come with organizations. They are high school students involved in a service-learning project, volunteers from corporations, churches and service groups. Some give a few hours of their time, others have volunteered daily for years. The diversity of our volunteers with regards to background and regularity is remarkable. Without these valuable members of our team, SFCLA would be unable to deliver its services so efficiently or to cultivate the personal relationships with those who come to us in their time of need.

Our mutual history has yielded so much success due to many factors. (1) The deep commitment to not only provide for the immediate hunger of those in need, but also for their long-term health, is first and foremost; (2) the diversity of those we collaborate with is also imperative for creating the greatest impact through our program. If we had volunteers but no food, or food but no sense of the comprehensive needs and wishes of our families, it would be impossible to serve people in the way that we do; (3) The shared heart-centered philosophy of serving without judgment or obligation is imperative to our success.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Live” metrics?

  • Access to healthy food
  • Obesity rates
  • Prevalence of adverse childhood experience (Dream Metric)
  • Percentage of LA communities that are resilient (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

SFCLA will deliver free groceries rich in fresh produce to communities where fresh food is scarce, improving the health of 3 LA neighborhoods in addition to our current site in downtown Los Angeles.

For a region of such abundance and notoriety across the globe, Los Angeles is riddled with areas where fresh produce and nutritious groceries are inaccessible for vulnerable populations. Whether that is because there are no large grocery store chains nearby or the food available is of poor quality or overpriced, for many Angelenos, healthy meals are not a reality. SFCLA’s goal is to eliminate Los Angeles’ food deserts so that children have the opportunity to grow up healthy, and low-income individuals are not prone to high rates of disease and disability.

In addition, community resilience is improved when members of the community eat healthy food. Healthy eating leads to better physical, mental and emotional health, all of which are critical to maintain high levels of resilience.

Last but not least, Los Angeles benefits economically from a decrease in health-related costs to taxpayers.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

SFCLA will work closely with each site in order to monitor and evaluate the program’s effectiveness and impact at the new locations through simple data collection that tracks numbers served and quantity of food distributed. Volunteer reflections will be conducted following each service opportunity to provide feedback/suggestions and capture stories relayed by clients. Additionally, guest feedback forms and staff suggestions will be reviewed for ideas on how we can improve the program. Weekly staff meetings will provide feedback/suggestions for program adjustments. A formal program evaluation will be conducted annually by the Executive Director and Program Director.

All of these tools are currently in place at our main location in downtown LA and have proven to be effective for delivering programs that reach beyond the immediate needs of our guests. We’re also Serving Hope.

Specific metrics for the Boyle Heights, East LA, and Hollywood locations are:

  1. A minimum of 66 new pantry service days will be available during the grant year;
  2. Families will receive a minimum of 40 pounds of fresh produce and groceries at every visit;
  3. 40 or more families will be served at each visit;
  4. 53 tons of free, fresh produce and groceries will be distributed during the grant year that are not currently being distributed;
  5. 3 new satellite pantries will be opened in 3 high-need LA neighborhoods; one site every 3 months;
  6. Weekly pantry services will be offered at all 3 location by the end of the grant year;
  7. Biweekly pantry services will be offered at the start of the grant year;
  8. 150 new pantry service days (50 days per site) and 120 tons of food (40 tons per site) are expected to be available in subsequent years.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

In the course of SFCLA’s journey to provide for those who do not have the resources they need to live healthy, productive lives, we have learned 2 important lessons:

First, that every individual must be treated with dignity and hope not only because decency dictates this, but because hope allows us to look ahead and dignity is what gives us the strength to move forward. Whether by society or their circumstances, many of the families that come to us have been stripped of hope and dignity, and this only perpetuates poor outcomes. We have learned that interacting personally with every guest is as sustaining as the food we provide. In a society where those in need are often ignored or judged, SFCLA is a place where staff is genuinely interested in people’s lives. And in a time where personal contact – a handshake and a few minutes of face-to-face conversation – has been replaced by frenetically-paced lives, the benefits that are reaped from SFCLA’s dedication to its heart-centered approach need cannot be overstated. Many of SFCLA’s guests return after weeks and months for no other reason than to share their success stories and express their gratitude. SFCLA Serves Hope.

The second lesson that informs our project is that providing groceries and produce to families in need is not only about sustenance, but about the long-term effects of improving the health of a family. Often times, diseases like diabetes can be avoided when children are given fruits and vegetables instead of fast food or processed treats that come so cheap. In addition, study after study has shown that children who are hungry or malnourished do not perform as well in school and this greatly limits opportunities for brighter futures.

Stories like Claudia’s keep us driven to protect our personal approach to service: A teenager from one of our pantry service families, Claudia has been volunteering at St. Francis Center this summer. Claudia’s mom has struggled with cancer for several years but Claudia tries to make the best of a difficult situation. Her family benefits from weekly fresh produce and groceries through our pantry service and Claudia wants to give back by helping out at the center. She learned the importance of service from her mom, who volunteers at SFCLA when she is able. Claudia is also very excited about going to summer camp in the mountains with other Pantry Services youth!

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Implementing our project within the next 12 months is an achievable goal because St. Francis Center has over 20 years of expertise in food distribution at our main location in downtown Los Angeles. Our established processes will translate well to the satellite locations with support from SFCLA staff and parish staff and volunteers.

We have identified a staged approach that allows us to start a single satellite pantry on a biweekly basis and learn from that site. As the first location is established and stabilized, we will add the 2nd and 3rd locations. Once all 3 satellite pantries are up and running on a biweekly basis, we will begin the process of converting to weekly services. This will also be done one site at a time to ensure the success and stability of the service.

By the end of the grant cycle food delivery will increase to once a week at all 3 satellite locations, resulting in a 50% increase in our pantry services!

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

One of the challenges we face as an organization is providing a consistent flow of quality food in the face of food donations that inherently have some fluctuations as to the number and type of good. In order to ensure that all necessary food items are included in our groceries, we will become more strategic about our in-kind donations by cultivating relationships with donors in our specific need areas. As needed, we will augment our supply by purchasing goods that might not be found in our donated food.

Another potential barrier is transferring our operational model to our three new satellite pantry locations. At St. Francis Center we have a system that is both time-tested and well-oiled. Our challenge is to translate that ease of process and efficiency to three new sites that are going to be completely different environments and that will present their own unique challenges. To ensure a successful expansion to these sites we have already begun communicating with the first site to understand potential issues and concerns, as well as unique opportunities. Additionally, we will hire two new staff members to help handle the logistics and running of our services. The first will be a part-time driver that will alleviate the extra strain that comes with an increased delivery schedule. The second is a full-time program coordinator that will be responsible for running the satellite programs in collaboration with parish staff and volunteers. As the number of sites and frequency of deliveries increase, staff hours allotted to the project will increase as well to guarantee that the families coming to us for assistance experience no lapse in quality of service.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Community outreach