Families Press for High-Quality Food in South, East Los Angeles


Photo taken on August 8, 2018

Through a countywide fund and community mobilization, United Parents and Students (UPAS) is working to combat food inequality across South and East Los Angeles.

At the 7th annual United Parents and Students virtual assembly–Together We Rise: A Vision for Change, the coalition’s efforts were recognized by public officials including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “It's that power to reimagine our city and our country that lies in the hands of the people,” said Garcetti. “I’m inspired by what UPAS and Green Dot have accomplished to create a grassroots voice for change.”


“It's that power to reimagine our city and our country that lies in the hands of the people. I’m inspired by what UPAS and Green Dot have accomplished to create a grassroots voice for change.” - Mayor Eric Garcetti


In collaboration with the American Heart Association and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, UPAS applied for and received the First 5 LA Built Environment Policy Advocacy Fund, managed by the Prevention Institute, to support its mobilization efforts within South and East Los Angeles.

UPAS will use this grant to bolster partnerships with grocers and retailers across high-need areas. Currently, UPAS and its partners are collaborating to improve the quality of existing grocery stores in vulnerable communities, equipping grocers and local entrepreneurs with strategies centered on healthy and affordable food, and increasing the number of large-scale, high-quality grocery stores in Best Start communities, including East LA, Broadway/Manchester, Watts/Willowbrook, West Athens, and southeast LA county cities. UPAS will also mobilize, educate, and prepare grocers to take advantage of the California Freshwork initiative. Freshworks links fresh-food and grocery startups with low interest loans, grants, and alternative funding to assist these new businesses in operating in low-income areas.

UPAS has conducted 200 one-on-one meetings with Green Dot Public School families across South and East Los Angeles to learn about food inequality in the communities we serve. A majority of families citied food quality at local supermarkets as a concern for the overall wellbeing of their children. Since 2002, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has noted sharp increases in food insecurities, and have found consistent and stronger relationships of food insecurity with low-income households since 2002.

Food Justice has long been a top priority for UPAS. In 2018, UPAS organized hundreds of families to push stores to deliver higher quality food

"UPAS families stood up against bad grocery stores. They were tired of rotting and expired food, unclean floors, and horrible smells. They wanted and deserved to shop and invest in stores in their own community, so they took action." said Veronica Toledo, Associate Director of UPAS. 

The Department of Public Health inspects stores for the general safety of the public. While it routinely evaluated baby formula, cooked and prepared foods, and temperature controls in grocery store ratings, it did not consider the spoilage of produce and dairy, which put many families at risk. 

UPAS is working to ensure families have equal access to affordable and high-quality food in their own communities. The community-based organization partnered with the LA Food Policy Council to create a new report card that considered dairy and produce quality in the inspections. In return, UPAS granted stores who promised to hold itself accountable to the new reporting system with Certified Store of Excellence seals to alert the community of its promise. So far, two neighborhood grocery stores, Grocery Outlet and Northgate Gonzalez Market, have earned this seal. 

“They worked with store managers to improve quality. And our families have seen significant improvements,” Toledo said. “When you walk into some of these stores now, you see produce, plants, herbs, water—whereas before, chips and soda dominated the front of the store.”

In response to UPAS’ mobilization efforts, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Hilda L. Solis proposed a motion that called for the Department of Public Health to reevaluate its store inspection practices, while also calling for recommendations to increase higher quality foods in vulnerable areas. Earlier this year, UPAS collaborated with the Department of Public Health to shape these new recommendations.

Stores will now display a new grade card, issued by the Department of Environmental Health, that will include a QR code and direct number for shoppers to leave feedback on stocked goods and produce. Shoppers can now use Los Angeles County’s The Works app to report expired and inedible products in stores to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The Department of Public health also implemented a new training curriculum for all inspectors on addressing food quality issues, particularly through identifying the root causes of spoiled, moldy, and expired foods. 

“This holds grocery stores accountable,” Toledo said. “Now it’s easier to report issues without feeling intimidated or inconvenienced.”

Green Dot Public Schools is proud to foster growth in communities. Community leaders founded UPAS within Green Dot’s network to help families address the factors outside of school boundaries that not only pose barriers to learning, and to support them in self-advocating community revitalization. We recognize the distinct issues that impact areas of high need, and that is why both Green Dot Public Schools and UPAS exist. UPAS works with over 12,000 families in the county of Los Angeles.