2021 Grants Challenge

Emergency Food Partnership

Venice Family Clinic and UCLA are combatting food insecurity in our community through the Emergency Food Partnership. Our program harnesses the talents of UCLA food service workers to create nutritious take-home meals for hundreds of people in need, which promotes health and economic stability for our most vulnerable patients while preserving employment during the pandemic. It combines access to healthy meals with evidence-based education that teaches participants about the value of using food as medicine to help them get well and stay well.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?


South Bay

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

More than half of low-income households across the Westside and South Bay struggle with food insecurity. Many people equate food insecurity with hunger, but the terms are not entirely synonymous. Food insecurity encompasses not having access to the quantity, quality, or variety of food needed for a healthy diet. Its costs are far-reaching: it increases the risk of chronic disease and can negatively impact mood and focus, impairing one’s ability to work and learn. Consequently, food insecurity perpetuates poverty and harms our community’s health. COVID-19 has intensified barriers families face in obtaining fresh and healthy food. Many people have lost jobs or hours, leading to tighter meal budgets. Others have become caretakers for children or ill family members, reducing their time and energy for grocery shopping and cooking. Low-income Angelenos—especially those at greatest risk of poor health outcomes—need access to programs that can provide affordable, healthy, and ready-made food.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

Venice Family Clinic and UCLA are fighting food insecurity by connecting hundreds of households to free, nutritious meals. With only 10% of students returning to campus last fall, UCLA sought a way to keep its dining workers employed that would help the community at large. UCLA and our Clinic saw an innovative path forward together: the university could deploy its staff to make meals for patients in need and we could supply the ingredients. Through the Emergency Food Partnership, UCLA Dining prepares about 2,500 take-home meals every weekday for distribution at Clinic sites. Nutrition and flavor are front and center. Imagine a bed of Spanish rice topped with grilled chipotle chicken, colorful organic veggies, and fresh salsa. This is the standard for every meal. Distributions are powered by our health education staff and volunteers, who conduct sign-ins and hand out packages to patients on foot and in cars. Patients receive four meals for themselves and for each member of their household weekly. We are hopeful that COVID case rates will continue to fall, and that soon, adults will return to work and students to school. Our program, however, cannot realistically be maintained at its current level after UCLA resumes at capacity. We know the program improves the health of our most vulnerable patients based on their feedback and the actual changes we see in their lab work. For this reason, we are committed to sustaining a smaller, tailored version for our highest need patients.

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: 480

Indirect Impact: 4,000

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Our tailored program will provide nearly 500 meals weekly to patients who will benefit most from regular access to healthy food, including those with uncontrolled diabetes and expectant mothers, and their families. In addition, patient participants will engage in online group classes based on the theme of embracing food as medicine to treat disease and achieve wellness. They will learn how to make healthful dishes on their own, watch live demos conducted in our Teaching Kitchen, create grocery budgets, and more. Our program will serve as a novel model for how a community-university partnership can successfully and sustainably target food insecurity. It will make Los Angeles a better place to live by ensuring people in need not only have access to nutritious meals but also to education that helps them build key skills and better understand the role between food and wellness. Importantly, by targeting entire families, our program has the potential to build intergenerational health.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

To date, the Partnership has distributed over 270,000 meals to 400 households. Patients have reported the program has made it easier to access healthy food in their neighborhoods, eat together with their families, and save income for other pressing needs. But our success is not just anecdotal: we have seen changes in our patients’ lab work, including improved blood sugar and iron levels. Goals over the project period for a new tailored program include: • Distribute 23,000 meals total to patients and their families. Staff will track meals using sign-in sheets. • Enroll 120 patients in classes focused on the value of food as medicine. Attendance logs and surveys will capture engagement. • Improve vital health markers: 45% of diabetic patients will improve their blood sugar and 60% of prenatal patients will reach normal iron levels. Physicians will order labs and monitor results. • Preserve jobs for dining workers through community service. UCLA will track employment in its HR system.

Describe the role of collaborating organizations on this project.

Venice Family Clinic and UCLA have a legacy of partnership dating back to the 1970s. Per our agreement for this project, UCLA Dining Services is responsible for managing activities related to food ordering, meal preparation, and delivery. Its team is also in charge of menu-setting and nutrition planning. Our Clinic is responsible for managing distributions, including aspects related to volunteer recruitment and training. Additionally, nutrition education activities and clinical care fall under the Clinic’s purview. Although each organization has its respective responsibilities, our collaboration is synergistic, motivated by a shared commitment to service. UCLA staff are not just behind the scenes: many stay on at distributions to help pass out meals to patients!

Which of the LIVE metrics will you impact?​

Access to healthy food

Food insecurity

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

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