Editorial: Long Beach is in a food crisis

Do you know the face of hunger in Long Beach?

It may be a neighbor, a co-worker, a family, a child, a senior, a veteran, a college student or those experiencing illness, disability or homelessness. Perhaps, it’s you.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact has hit hard, especially in lower-income communities of color in the city.

Unemployment has soared to levels surpassing those seen during the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009. In May, Long Beach recorded its highest unemployment rate of 20.6% although the jobless number dropped over the summer into the fall, it’s reversed course and is climbing amid new pandemic restrictions.

Without work, many residents are struggling to pay for rent, food, transportation, health care and other necessities.

One of the most direct effects of the pandemic has been a dramatic rise in food insecurity—the lack of access to affordable and nutritious food.

More Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach students have been seeking help with basic needs, including food and housing.

Meals on Wheels of Long Beach has seen the number of extremely low-income, home-bound seniors needing food more than double since March. Meal delivery programs are especially important for seniors who are at much greater risk if they are infected by the virus that causes COVID-19.

A recent study by USC found that one of every four households in Los Angeles County experienced food insecurity at least once in the first few months of the pandemic.

The largest food bank in Southern California has seen an unprecedented 145% increase in demand compared to the pre-pandemic period. “It’s off the charts for us,” said Michael Flood, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through LA County shuttering businesses, closing restaurants and canceling events,” Flood said, “the demand for food assistance sharply increased.”

The food bank is on track to deliver upward of 150 million meals to its partner agencies and families in need this year.

Faith-based groups, non-profit organizations, grassroots community groups, charities, service clubs, labor unions, food banks, and food pantries have stepped up to try to meet demand from those needing food. Their efforts are heroic. More is needed.

A Thanksgiving turkey giveaway won’t cut it. With COVID cases surging, restaurants, bars, and businesses scaling back operations, and the ranks of the unemployed growing again, more must be done to get food to those who need it.

It’s time for all levels of government—city, county, state and federal—to mobilize their resources to ensure those most affected by the pandemic have enough good quality food to eat.

The problem is not supply. It’s distribution.

In May, cars lined up for 2 miles at a food distribution event in North Long Beach organized by Councilman Rex Richardson and state Sen. Lena Gonzalez. That day, more than 2,600 boxes of food were distributed.

With the holidays coming, a similar event is planned for Dec. 17 at Cabrillo High School and Dec. 19 at the Long Beach Convention Center

Too few events on this scale have occurred. It’s time for Long Beach to hold large-scale, citywide, drive-thru food distribution events on a consistent basis. It’s also time to tap the creative energy in our community to develop new ways of getting food to those who need it.

Josh Haber, a recent Cal State Long Beach graduate, created PeriDeals, a free app that in early 2021 will alert users when time sensitive discounts are available for perishable food. Haber sees the app as a complement to food pantries.

PeriDeals is evidence that there is innovation in Long Beach. We need a comprehensive, coordinated effort to feed ourselves. This creative, communal and cooperative spirit is how we will survive not only this pandemic, but also the high cost of living in Long Beach that too often forces people to choose between food and other necessities.

To truly be a community, we must choose to support each other. Hunger doesn’t end after the holidays. Assistance is needed year round. The Long Beach Post has compiled a resource guide for anyone who needs immediate assistance.  For anyone looking to provide assistance will you:

  • hold a contactless food drop off?
  • adopt a family?
  • donate to a food bank?
  • volunteer at a food distribution center?

What exactly are you willing to do to feed our community?

Write to us and let us know. We will continue to update the Long Beach Post’s resource guide.

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