Partnering for a Healthier South LA

National Health Foundation (NHF) and partners know firsthand that to improve the health of individuals and underserved communities the work cannot be done alone. Collaboration is necessary, and forming multi-sectoral partnerships to align resources, leverage partnerships, and synergize upstream prevention efforts –  is key to building a healthier community.

Under the BUILD Health LA initiative, NHF and partners have come together to address the health disparities and inequities faced by the South Central LA community. Together, BUILD partners envision Historic South Los Angeles as a community that defies the odds and becomes an oasis of fresh, healthy foods and inviting urban space. The BUILD initiative attempts to build on past efforts to create an inviting community where youth, families and adults can access healthy food, be physically active outside, and are supported in maintaining a healthy lifestyle that results in decreasing the prevalence of obesity and subsequently diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, this partnership believes in the ambition and potential of the youth in this community. Central to this work, is the commitment and emphasis on youth involvement, empowering youth to take action towards improving social, environmental, and economic conditions in their neighborhood to impact community health.

At present, a new forged partnership with Community Markets Purchasing Real and Affordable Foods (COMPRA Foods) has caused great excitement to the BUILD efforts. COMPRA Foods is a purchasing cooperative and produce distribution program designed to meet the needs of small grocers in low-income neighborhoods. COMPRA Foods was developed, and is lead, by Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN), the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC), and the Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA). The COMPRA Foods team will provide leadership to the BUILD initiative in engaging small markets to offer fresh, healthy food options.

Other BUILD Health LA partners include: Santee Education Complex and Thomas Jefferson High Schools who are providing access to youth for participation; 3WINS program at California State University, Northridge, who are providing kinesiology student volunteers to facilitate fitness programming; All People’s Community Center, A Place Called Home and L.A.U.R.A., who will each host new fitness programming and will conduct outreach to the community to expose neighbors to the positive changes being implemented; and South Central Family Health Center and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, who will conduct outreach, disseminate marketing materials, and food vouchers to drive community members to embrace the implemented upstream healthy changes in the community.

Through BUILD, the project team is moving South LA toward supporting healthier lifestyles. In addition, by training and supporting youth Community Health Liaisons to drive much of this change, the project creates a cadre of local leaders who will understand potential for upstream improvements and have the skills to influence them.

Together, NHF and partners are TAKING ACTION to decrease the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in Historic South Central LA by creating new solutions to community health!

Recently, NHF met up with Rudy Espinoza, LURN Founder and Executive Director, and his team at LURN Headquarters. Here’s what they had to say about the new partnership and how LURN’s work through COMPRA Foods, connects with the BUILD Health LA initiative.

What is it about the BUILD community action plan that is in line with LURN’s mission?

Like the BUILD Health LA initiative, LURN is dedicated to binging people together to design, build, and promote sustainable communities that allow everyone to live to their greatest potential. For example, through the COMPRA Foods program, LURN is invested in finding creative opportunities to bring more fresh produce and healthier food options into underserved communities like South LA to build a healthier community, and a healthier Los Angeles overall.

What are the goals for COMPRA?

With little to no access to major grocery stores in neighborhoods like Historic South Central Los Angeles, COMPRA Foods aims to amplify the capacity of small convenience stores to carry affordable and healthy produce. Currently, COMPRA is a grant funded initiative, supported by funders such as USDA, the Department of Public Health, the Ahmanson Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation. “We have a vision that COMPRA can become the next stand-alone social enterprise, much like Amazon fresh, for local grocers and small convenience stores.” This would mean more access to fresh, quality, fruits and vegetables at a low-price for store owners, and residents alike, who frequent and shop at these local stores.

What has the community response to COMPRA been?”
Once in the COMPRA Foods program, small convenience store owners often see the value and cost savings of entering the cooperative. This is due by enlarge to the fact that small food retailers source their food products from “big-box” grocers, paying full price for these products and then marking them up for sale in their own establishments. This often occurs because entrepreneurs lack relationships with distributors who can deliver produce to their businesses at wholesale prices. Small and mid-size farmers who may be interested in selling their produce directly to these establishments also lack the relationships and efficient distribution systems that can connect them to the hundreds of stores in low-income, “food deserts”. This service gap between growers, distribution companies, and small food retailers impacts low-income consumers tremendously. Because there are few major grocery stores in some low-income communities, families are required to buy food at elevated costs found at small grocers who themselves lack low-cost alternatives to sourcing the produce they offer. In contrast, by entering the COMPRA Foods program, small market owners find support and are connected with small to large wholesale food distributors that provide them with the accessibility and affordability to sell fresh, healthy produce in their stores at a low-price to residents.

What does BUILD bring to LURN?
Through the BUILD Heath LA initiative, one part-time staff member will be hired to manage and expand the COMPRA Foods program to include 16 small markets within Historic South Central LA. Specifically, as a main focus in the first year, youth Community Health Liaisons and the project partners will conduct assessments of 22 local markets (out of the community’s 224 markets) to determine their viability and interest in participating in a food purchasing collaborative with expectations that a minimum of 16 will enter into the collaborative by the end of the first year. After three months of training, the anticipated goal is that each participating store will increase their healthy food options as measured by a cooperative order tracking system.

This supports LURN’s three-year program outcomes for COMPRA, which include: (1) engaging 60 small grocers and convenience stores in the Los Angeles Promise Zone area; (2) equipping 30 small stores to purchase produce and healthy snacks; (3) broker partnerships with 3 local farmers, produce wholesalers, and healthy snack purveyors; and (4) deliver food weekly to more than 30 small grocers and provide marketing and product placement assistance. This with an overall arching goal of reaching 30,000 residents and encouraging them to purchase healthy produce and snacks.