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United Parents and Students: Strengthening Access to High-Quality Supermarkets in Low-Income Communities Across Los Angeles

United Parents and Students


UPAS will partner with the American Heart Association and California FreshWorks to improve access to high-quality, fresh and affordable foods in underserved communities across Los Angeles. We will support LA County in adopting a Healthy Food Financing Initiative that incentivizes stores to offer nutritious food options and encourages healthy food businesses to set up shop in high-need areas, creating opportunities for better local health outcomes and food access while also increasing employment opportunities and promoting economic development.

Please describe the mission of your organization.

United Parents and Students (UPAS) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization empowering members of low-income communities to become powerful self-advocates for neighborhood revitalization by building permanent, self-sustaining coalitions of community members who demand positive social change.

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

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • Westside
  • City of Los Angeles
  • LAUSD (please select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program

If you are submitting a collaborative proposal, please describe the specific role of partner organizations in the project.

While not submitting a formal collaborative proposal, UPAS will work closely with the American Heart Association, California FreshWorks, and the Department of Public Health — among other community-based organizations and public school partners — to complete the aforementioned programmatic initiatives. The AHA will continue working with UPAS on the Good Food Economy Task Force to incentivize high-quality grocery stores to locate in low-income communities; and will support UPAS’ work by continuing its produce pickup program and building teaching gardens throughout the city. FreshWorks will lend its experience supporting retailers in expanding healthy food access, helping UPAS build county-wide investment and strategically implement motions initiated by UPAS organizing and passed by the DPH.

What is the need you’re responding to?

Though life may be filled with challenges, being able to find a clean grocery store with fresh produce shouldn’t be one of them. In Los Angeles County, almost 30% of low-income residents struggle to find quality food. Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are two to three times less likely than affluent or white neighborhoods to have access to nearby grocery stores with affordable and nutritious food, putting residents at disproportionate risk for obesity, diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses like cardiovascular disease and cancer. UPAS is effective at helping communities organize, find their voice, and demand equitable access to the countless opportunities to be found in Los Angeles. The organization is proud to support its members’ ongoing fight to put healthy food on their family’s tables.

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?

Since its formation in 2011, UPAS has become a force for positive change in the communities it serves, winning major victories by building networks of parents, students, and community leaders and training them in the proven strategies of successful organizing. In 2018, members identified food justice as a shared priority. They have developed a report card to assess local supermarket quality, conducted evaluations of more than 20 stores across South Los Angeles, and awarded seals of excellence to those exemplifying high-quality service to their communities. The work has been supported by the LA Food Policy Council, which passed the 2019 Good Food Zones motion, and facilitated the LA County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous approval of the Improving Supermarket Quality motion, calling for the Department of Public Health to address food quality and food safety issues. Now is the perfect time for UPAS community leaders to take the fight for food justice to the next level.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?

Direct impact
Indirect impact

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

We envision a Los Angeles where the needs of residents in Watts are met as urgently as those in Pacific Palisades, where potholes on Alameda are filled as quickly as those on Beverly Glen, and where families in Boyle Heights can find the same healthy food there is in Santa Monica.This vision empowers low-income communities of color to recognize their political power and the tangible results of their agency. UPAS provides residents with training in the proven skills and strategies of successful organizing. We support members in identifying and evaluating the challenges they face and problem-solving effective, actionable solutions. In doing so, we help communities affect meaningful and lasting change for themselves and their neighbors.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

UPAS members will secure a commitment from a high-quality supermarket operator to open at least one new location in a low-income community. UPAS has partnered with the American Heart Association and California FreshWorks, an experienced, mission-driven lending network that supports businesses working to increase access to healthy food in California’s low-income communities. Both partners will support UPAS members in hosting meetings with six high-quality operators to raise awareness of the impact of food injustice, the needs of local residents, and the California FreshWorks investment program. Members will share their success in rallying community support for businesses showing commitment to, and care for those they serve. Direct partnership with grocery store operators will be supported by grassroots petitioning of LA County leadership to propose a motion to support the FreshWorks program and provide incentives for investment in healthy food enterprises in the city’s low-income communities. These actions will contribute to several long-term objectives of the LA2050 program: improving residents’ access to affordable, fresh produce; reducing food insecurity for people with low incomes; generating more equitable health outcomes for low-income communities of color; and increasing residents’ satisfaction with local government’s services, programs, and policies in response to their needs.

Which of the live metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Access to healthy food
  • Food insecurity

Are there any other LA2050 goal categories that your proposal will impact?

  • LA is the best place to CREATE
  • LA is the healthiest place to CONNECT

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?

  • Access to the LA2050 community
  • Host public events or gatherings
  • Communications support
  • Office space for meetings, events, or for staff
  • Capacity, including staff
  • Strategy assistance and implementation