Community Exchange: building our food safety net with empathy and precision
The Community Exchange Program is developing a concierge model designed to provide small- to medium-sized nonprofits throughout LA County with the healthy, fresh food their communities need, when they need it, so they can focus on their missions. Our vision is a city where everyone has food, community, and support.
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
County of Los Angeles
What is the problem that you are seeking to address?
Food insecurity in LA has spiked dramatically since 2020, extending to both housed and unhoused neighbors. Before the pandemic, 2 million people in LA County were living with food insecurity (about 1 in 5). Now, LA has the largest food-insecure population in the nation with 2.5 million people (about 1 in 4). According to the LA Food Policy Council, food insecurity is often clustered in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, which generally have 2-3 times fewer options when it comes to healthy, high-quality food. Nonprofits serving these populations have very specific needs, which are not sufficiently met through the existing food sharing systems. Attempts to solve this problem are made through technology and one-size-fits-all approaches, yet many communities remain disconnected from resources. Simply put, existing models don’t accommodate the diversity of nonprofit communities and their food needs, resulting in inequitable access to high quality food donations.
Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.
The Community Exchange is developing an empathetic, culturally-sensitive, and customizable model that treats nonprofits like high-value customers, catering to the diversity of their needs, constraints, and schedules. Through our nonprofit partners, we deliver the right food to the people who need it most. Food is personal, and we want all Angelenos to feel the joy that comes from a great meal. As a kitchen ourselves, we understand the complicated nature of receiving food donations and preparing high-quality meals that meet an individual’s personal needs. Our careful nonprofit intake and feedback process, paired with our innovative food rescue inventory system, allows us to redirect resources more precisely to underrepresented communities. We emphasize quality over quantity, centralizing great food donations and efficiently dispersing them around the city, so donors can give to one place and nonprofits can better choose what they receive and when they get it. Most importantly, we layer on strong, active relationship building. We take a bottom-up approach and work with each organization to develop a deep understanding of their programs’ needs, preferences, populations served, and constraints. We have ongoing conversations, often weekly, to improve our offerings and ensure our service is responsive to changing needs in their community. With personalized knowledge of our over 80 nonprofit partners, we can match them with food that fits their community outreach and programs.
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?
Expand existing project, program, or initiative
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
Direct Impact: 100,000
Indirect Impact: 2,500,000
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
The Community Exchange has the potential to dramatically reduce food insecurity throughout LA, leading the way for a more efficient and equitable system. Just this year, we can rescue and organize over two million pounds of food and partner with fellow nonprofits to share 1.6 million meals with disadvantaged communities. Whether it's immune-boosting citrus, veggie bacon bits, or sustainably-raised striped bass, we will connect with more large food distributors and wholesalers to develop regular donations of healthy food and increase the quality, variety, and cultural-relevance of food donated to nonprofits. Long term, the model we are developing can be replicated and customized for any community. We will help partner nonprofits develop programs in their community, ensuring that all food-insecure Angelenos have consistent, local access to meals, regardless of neighborhood, income level or emergency conditions. Ultimately, this will result in healthier, more resilient communities.
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
In the last year, we rescued 1.1 million pounds of food from over 150 businesses and food recovery groups, equating to about 700,000 meals. We moved to a temporary site in May and by December, our monthly food rescue grew by 1,471% to 264,000 pounds. This was accomplished with very limited storage and refrigeration capacity, which we are increasing by moving to a better-equipped facility in April 2021. While we’re proud of our numbers, the formal and informal feedback collected from nonprofit partners - forms, in-person conversations, and phone calls - signal our model is on the right track. We’ve learned that we’re providing a level of service and choice not available elsewhere, and communities are gaining access to healthy, culturally-sensitive food like never before. Our ability to adapt to both temporary and permanent changes is key to meeting the on-the-ground realities of their operations, and we’re continuing to refine our program based on this essential feedback.
Which of the LIVE metrics will you impact?
Access to healthy food
Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.
LA is the healthiest place to CONNECT