Delicious Oases: How the California Endowment is Tackling Food Deserts

If you browse the shelves of the average corner market in South Los Angeles, you’ll likely find a wide variety of potato chips and chocolate bars, but not much else. For over a million California residents, buying fresh food means driving more than 20 minutes from home to find it. But thanks to some public-private partnerships, we’re starting to see some changes in the neighborhood.

The California Endowment designed and provided the bulk of the funding for the California FreshWorks, a public-private partnership loan fund created to bring healthy foods to communities that don’t have them. “The opening of Northgate Gonzalez at the beautiful new Juanita Tate Marketplace is an unequivocal win for the residents of South Los Angeles,” said Robert K. Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment, who attended the event. “We know that your zip code should not determine your health but too often a lack of access to fresh, nutritious foods plays a role in whether or not individuals, families and communities are healthy.” (Read The California Endowment: Los Angeles Grants.)

Not only are these new food centers putting produce on market shelves, they’re also creating jobs. According to a California Endowment press release, 130 jobs were created by opening this supermarket, with more than 70% of new hires being South Los Angeles neighborhood residents. This particular store is expected to serve over 455,000 local residents. The California FreshWorks Fund also received support from Kaiser Permanente Southern California, banks, insurance companies, individual investors, and federal funds.

Funding healthy food hubs is a big deal in the state of California these days. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council is offering shop owners technical assistance and resources for reopening their markets with a fresh, healthy vibe. All of this fits into The California Endowment’s “Neighborhoods” grantmaking strategy for junk foods and junk drinks. Aside from the prominent California FreshWorks program, the foundation is also asking local governments to use zoning powers to kick junk food establishments to the curb.

A significant chunk of the Endowment's budget goes to program-related investments, for which the next round of funding will be announced in June. But through the year 2020, the foundation is committed to 14 California neighborhoods, one being South Los Angeles, that need to get healthy. Although the foundation rarely funds unsolicited grant applications, a good place to start is the budget and work plan templates on the Applicant Resources page. Questions about the South Los Angeles program can be directed to Tamu Jones, and the Greater Los Angeles program to Charles Fields.