A growing problem during difficult times
Los Angeles, for the last few decades, has been dealing with a food insecurity crisis that has contributed to many communities resorting to unhealthy methods to provide food for their families. Most, if not all low-income residents receive government assistance, but once the pandemic came, politicians and families realized that wasn’t enough to sustain them.
In 2018, according to the PublicHealth website 26.8%—or 516,000 Los Angeles County households with incomes less than 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL)--experienced some level of food insecurity. Of these, 203,000 households reportedly experienced “low food security” (lack of money or resources for proper daily nutrition). During that same time, the detraction of physical health was also prevalent as many people who faced food insecurity suffered from obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and depression.
“COVID has just wreaked havoc on so many things: on public health, on economic stability, and obviously food insecurity,” said Luis Guardia, president of the Food, Research and Action Center.
She said roughly 10.5% of households across America experienced food insecurity which equals 35 million Americans who couldn’t acquire enough food to meet their needs or were uncertain of where their next meal might come from in 2019. According to one estimate by researchers at Northwestern University, food insecurity more than doubled as a result of the economic crisis brought on by the outbreak, hitting as many as 23% of households earlier that year.
Also, the rate of children that experienced food insecurity doubled as those kids were unable to go to school for lunchtime as they were closed because of the pandemic.
“The other thing that COVID has done is it’s affected the kid’s food security,” Guardia said. “One of the things we’ve noticed across the board is that households with children are more food insecure. And we believe that also has to do with school closures. As kids get their nutrition from school meals, and that--s been disrupted.”
The latest data from the United States Department of Agriculture has revealed that Black and Latino families were disproportionately affected by the pandemic regarding food insecurity. The USDA estimated that 19.1% of Black households and , and 15.6% of Latino households experienced some level of food insecurity over three years. This is compared with a reported 7.9% of White households who experienced the same problem of securing enough household food staples.
While SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other government assistance benefits were available during the pandemic, households were only receiving around $129 dollars per monthly allowance. These households fell far short in their weekly food bills. Rising inflation also was a factor each time they went to the market for food supplies. This caused the federal government to boost assistance programs to at least partially compensate families living at or below the poverty level.
A 2022 research study conducted by USC’s Keck School of Medicine revealed that 802,000 households in L.A. County faced food insecurity in 2020. Per the report, “ When the pandemic hit in 2020, our research documented a large spike in food insecurity among low-income households: 42% experienced food insecurity that year.”
In 2022, the rate of food insecurity among low-income residents was worse than pre-pandemic levels: 1 in 3 (37%) reported experiencing food insecurity in surveys conducted in July 2022 and December 2022.
During this time, the food desert in Los Angeles became evident as residents were forced to travel far distances to find a grocery store. A food desert is when an area or areas have trouble accessing food resources, whether that’s a lack of grocery stores, fresh markets, or driving long distances to purchase healthy food options. South Los Angeles has many food deserts in low-income communities, which causes residents to shop at convenience stores with limited options or eat fast food more often than not, which causes health problems for all ages. A food desert can also be defined as an area where residents lack the financial capabilities to purchase healthy food because the stores in the area are overpriced. Another contributing component is the knowledge and education needed for purchasing healthy foods.
Local health leaders saw this crisis and decided to take measures to ensure their residents won’t have to deal with this problem in the foreseeable future by supporting and donating to pre-existing organizations and helping create others. Los Angeles County started the Cares Act in 2020, which has provided 5 million meals to nearly 300,000 residents struggling with food and economic security. Leveraging federal CARES Act dollars, they implemented on-the-ground programs to get much-needed food, to those who need it the most. This has also allowed them to distribute nearly 6 million pounds of boxed food at dozens of drive-up events throughout the County. They also delivered 2.2 million meals to seniors and people who are disabled.
Another organization looking to provide support to Los Angeles residents is SoCalGas with its Fueling Our Communities program. The program began in 2020 as a collaboration between SoCalGas and five regional nonprofits to provide free meals to individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the YMCA is the recent recipient of the program.
“Fueling Our Communities is one way we demonstrate SoCalGas’ commitment to investing in our service area communities. Partnering with the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles was an easy choice because of their reach and relationships with the communities they serve,” said SoCalGas Chief Operating Officer Jimmie Cho. “Food insecurity is a critical issue across the state, with many local food banks reporting that they are serving double the amount of people compared with 2019. This initiative began during the COVID-19 pandemic, and partnerships, like this one, with the LA’s YMCA have helped provide tens of thousands of families with fresh produce and food.”
The YMCA Of Metropolitan Los Angeles received a $325,000 donation from SoCalGas for their FEED LA program, which has provided over 9 million fresh food and nutritious meals to low-income families in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley that face food insecurity. The YMCA-LA Feed LA program has fed thousands of families in need throughout Los Angeles for over two years,” said Victor Dominguez, President and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles. “As a result of SoCalGas’s generous contribution to the program, we can continue to fight food insecurity in communities that need help the most, and we are grateful for their partnership and support.”
“Food insecurity is a serious crisis that affects a significant number of residents in L.A . County,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, representing the First District. “I am grateful for community partners such as the YMCA, which strives to ensure that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, has equitable access to nourishing meals. I extend my sincere gratitude to SoCalGas for their generous contribution, as it will empower the YMCA to expand the number of meals it provides to individuals and families in need across the County.”
Rep. Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) expressed pleasure with the donation and partnership between both organizations, as solving the food crisis is of the utmost importance.
“In the face of food insecurity, our district’s strength lies in the unwavering commitment of organizations like the YMCA, dedicated to fostering equitable access to nutritional meals for those in need,” Gomez said, “Through the generous support of community partners, the YMCA will extend its reach, providing even more nutritious food to families and individuals across the district. Meanwhile, I will continue working in Congress to expand food nutrition programs and ensure healthy meals are accessible and affordable for everyone.”
SoCalGas is expanding the impact of the Fueling Our Communities initiative by allocating $4 million, the largest commitment to date, to new and existing partnerships with food banks and nonprofits throughout the SoCalGas service area.