Providing Healthy Food Options in a Time of Need

In Southeast Los Angeles, more than 32.4% of families lack healthy food access — nearly 1 out of every 3 families. And those numbers, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are growing. Now, more than ever, children and families, and especially communities of color, are experiencing higher rates of food insecurity.

Thankfully, food pantries are providing essential meals and assistance. However, those meals often come with beverages that are high in sugar. In fact, 45.3% of kids in Southeast Los Angeles consume at least one sugary beverage every day.

To help put a focus on health in food pantries, AltaMed Health Services, an organization committed to eliminating health care disparities throughout Southern California, is working to establish a regional food bank hub in the area. The hub will be the first to pilot test a “Healthy Food and Beverage Policy” and will provide technical assistance to other food pantries interested in doing the same.

As part of their efforts, boosted by a grant from the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, AltaMed will build an oral health component within its civic engagement strategy.

“We are partnering with communities, and their trusted representatives, that have a disproportionately high stake in not only seeing the current oral health system evolve, but in actively participating in its progress as change agents and leaders,” says Parrish Ravelli, a DentaQuest Partnership grant associate.

Through this program, AltaMed is seeking to build power among low-income residents of color to engage in advocacy and in the decision-making processes that affect their health. For example, the organization is aiming to train and retain 20-40 community health advocates to mobilize community members and to lead an oral health policy with support from the My Community, My Health (MCMH) Coalition.

To establish the food bank hub, AltaMed is collaborating with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the American Heart Association, Food Forward and Leah’s Pantry. They have identified three food pantry leaders who would like to join the pilot project and are launching a “soft” roll-out of the healthier food and beverage policy. This includes a 10-week food distribution event that will reach 100-150 families weekly with foods and beverages that align with the new policy.

“Our collective mission is to collaborate with partners and community members to promote healthy and active living in Southeast Los Angeles through systemic interventions, environmental change, and health policy advocacy,” says Corina Martinez, community health impact program manager at AltaMed.

AltaMed is also administering a three-item food insecurity survey with families to assess food security changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information about this project, contact Corina Martinez at cormartinez@altamed.org.

More about AltaMed Health Services

Established in 1969 as the East Los Angeles Barrio Free Clinic, AltaMed Health Services now operates 43 medical care locations and serves 203,000 patients in Southern California. From its early years as a leader during the 1970s and 1980s era of civil rights activism, AltaMed continues to partner with the communities it serves to address health disparities and inequity to advance health, wellness, and social justice at the local, state and national levels.