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How Thrive Market and The Pride Pantry are Nourishing LA’s LGBTQIA+ Community

June 10th, 2021

Los Angeles’ West Hollywood is a hotbed of culture, boasting a famed nightlife scene, a vibrant design district, and a seemingly endless array of hip restaurants, hotels, and boutiques. It’s also a haven where those who identify as LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and all others on the gender and sexuality spectrum) can feel safe and comfortable being their authentic selves.

Less than two miles from the heart of West Hollywood down Santa Monica Boulevard, the Los Angeles LGBT Center stands as both a beacon of light for the LGBTQIA+ community that calls Los Angeles home and a reminder that, despite the city’s culture of inclusivity, many of its LGBTQIA+ residents are grappling with daily struggles like poverty, homelessness, and hunger.

Food Inequality in the LGBTQIA+ Community

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated economic instability and brought existing systemic inequities to light, the nationwide LGBTQIA+ community—youth, seniors, and people of color in particular—faced food insecurity at a higher rate than the general population, according to research from the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. Generally speaking, Los Angeles has more food insecure people (1.5 million, according to a report from the Congressional Hunger Center) than any other city in the nation; 11% of them are older adults.

It’s impossible to talk about food insecurity in Los Angeles without also talking about the city’s homelessness crisis. In Los Angeles County, more than 65,000 people are experiencing homelessness, a number that is expected to grow threefold in 2021 due to pandemic-related job losses, the LA Times reported in January.

According to the Los Angeles LGBT Center, on any given day, 6,000 of those unhoused individuals on the city’s streets are aged 24 and younger. Of these homeless youth, 40% identify as LGBTQIA+, which research suggests puts them at increased risk of physical and mental health issues and prolonged homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless states that LGBTQIA+ individuals experiencing homelessness often struggle to find shelters where they can safely reside, putting them at a heightened risk of violence and abuse.

In the LGBTQIA+ community, homelessness and food insecurity are problems with deep roots. A Pew Research Center survey of LGBTQIA+ individuals conducted in 2013 found that 39% had been rejected by a family member or close friend because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For those LGBTQIA+ individuals who are disconnected from their families, “they are missing this vital support system that so many of us turn to when needing assistance,” says Dina Valenzuela, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Administrative and Events Coordinator for its Culinary Arts program.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center Offers Service & Support

Founded in 1969, the Los Angeles LGBT Center provides essential services across four main categories—Health, Social Services and Housing, Culture and Education, and Leadership and Advocacy—to more LGBTQIA+ people than any other nonprofit organization worldwide. The Center’s nearly 800 employees offer free or low-cost services that range from medical care and housing to educational programs and college scholarships. “The Center serves as a lifeline to many members in times of crisis,” Valenzuela says.

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, Valenzuela shares that many of the Center’s clients, including homeless and low-income youths and seniors, found themselves without enough food for the first time in their lives. Some of the Center’s homeless visitors reported that locations where they had previously received meals were closed due to COVID-19, and many seniors were afraid to leave their homes and risk contracting the virus.

In response to the new and urgent needs precipitated by the pandemic, the Pride Pantry was established last year, allowing people to sign up online to receive weekly boxes of both non-perishable groceries and fresh produce. Every Friday, staff and volunteers gather at the Center’s Anita May Rosenstein Campus in Hollywood (as well as the Center’s facilities in Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles) to assemble and distribute food to those in need.

Recognizing the unique needs of their community, the Center has made a conscious effort to ensure its programs can meet clients where they are. Through various volunteer groups, the Center offers grocery delivery services for seniors and youth who may not have transportation. “These types of services have been extremely beneficial and invaluable to our clients,” Valenzuela states.

Thrive Market and Pride Pantry: A Partnership for Healthy Living

“Providing healthy food has always been a priority to Pride Pantry,” Valenzuela goes on. “Nutrition is important, and we spend a lot of time thinking about what goes in the boxes.” In addition to shelf-stable pantry goods—such as plant- and animal-based proteins, pasta, beans, rice, soup, and healthy snacks—the Pride Pantry also purchases and distributes fresh produce every week, paying special attention to seasonality, nutritional value, and the circumstances of their clients. “Our bags contain a variety of fruits and vegetables and 90% of the items can be eaten raw,” she says. “A typical produce bag will include apples, oranges, carrots, celery, kale, and red leaf lettuce.”

Valenzuela adds that, thanks to donations to the Center, the Pride Pantry has been able to add hygiene kits to its offering. The kits include personal care essentials like cloth masks, toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste, and dental floss.

As part of our mission to address food inequality and make healthy living affordable and accessible for all, Thrive Market is partnering with the Center to provide 250 boxes of healthy groceries to the Pride Pantry. Additionally, members of our team participated in a Pride Pantry distribution event this month, including assembling food deliveries and handing them out to the Center’s clients.

Hope for a Healthier Food Future

Witnessing the Pride Pantry’s life-changing impact on one of Los Angeles’ most vulnerable communities is a ray of light after a dark year. “For some, the Pantry is their only source of food every week,” Valenzuela says. “We have received many emails and thank-you notes from clients expressing their gratitude for the program. To be able to assist in providing food to an individual or family week after week is very humbling.”

Valenzuela adds that understanding the importance of the work the Center is doing is what keeps her motivated—and for her, it’s personal. “I was raised by a single mom. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my mom always made sure we had food in the refrigerator,” she reflects. “I understand [what it’s like] to live on a budget and how important it is to have food for your family. If I can play a role in making that happen here at the Center, I will gladly take on that responsibility.”

How You Can Help

Simply by being a Thrive Market member, you’re participating in the fight to end food inequality in the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond; for every paid membership, we donate one to a family or individual in need. You can also donate a portion of your savings at checkout to our Food Equality Fund, which benefits organizations like FoodCorps and Baby2Baby, which are working to provide healthy essentials and education for people most impacted by food inequality.

If you’re located in Los Angeles and want to support the Center’s work, Valenzuela says the Pride Pantry always appreciates donations, whether monetary or in the form of shelf-stable groceries and dry goods, hygiene kits, and other household staples. The Pantry also welcomes volunteers to help with assembly, distribution, and deliveries.

Although Pride Month is a great time to get involved with your local LGBT center, organizations like the Center require year-round support to do their crucial work—and so do the people in need who receive their services. As Valenzuela poignantly puts it, “Pandemic or not, no person or family should ever have to go hungry.”

This article is related to: Thrive Gives

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