Written by: Center for Care Innovations

For 63-year-old Ja-Jah the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Pride Pantry—a response to widespread food insecurity among its clientele during the COVID-19 pandemic—is more than a lifeline. “When I first started using the pantry, I had mobility issues and problems with lifting. I could not carry grocery bags,” says the client of four years, who lives in Koreatown and suffers from back pain and nerve damage. “The pantry came at just the right time, and it was fast: I pulled up in a taxi, got out, gave them my name, and they handed me my groceries.  It was amazing. I have never seen anything like it. The food at the pantry is so well organized.”

Begun in May 2020, the Pride Pantry provides more than 400 clients with a bag of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with a box of pantry staples such as canned fish and beans, rice and oatmeal. The weekly, by-appointment pantry is held on Fridays at the nonprofit center’s Anita May Rosenstein Campus, a landmark location in Hollywood that spans over 180,000 feet. Opened in 2019, the gleaming, modern building dubbed “a miniature queer city” by one writer, is designed to serve two particularly vulnerable LGBTQ communities: seniors and youth. Twenty-four percent of LGBT seniors don’t have enough food to eat, according to the center.

Pride Pantry’s appointment model is efficient, minimizes waste, and makes it seamless to track referrals and gather metrics for funding purposes. And it allows for a swift, safe, and congestion-free pick-up experience during the coronavirus crisis. Food pantry items are also distributed at other Los Angeles LGBT Center locations: Each week at Mi Centro, in the mostly Latino Boyle Heights neighborhood, and twice a month at the Center South location in South Los Angeles near Leimert Park, home to a largely African-American demographic. The center also provides weekly produce to its residents at Triangle Square, a senior affordable housing project located in Hollywood. For some senior clients dealing with disability or transportation issues, the center offers delivery, courtesy of volunteers.

Early on in the virus crisis, the Los Angeles LGBT Center learned—like many working in safety net agencies—that there was a dramatic uptick in food insecurity among its clients. In a small, informal survey of health services clients in 2019, 12 out of 18 patients screened positive for food insecurity. The center’s medical services clinics screen patients for food insecurity using the Hunger Vital Sign, a two-question food insecurity screening tool developed by the Nutrition and Obesity Network, and the survey tool PRAPARE (Protocol for Responding to and Assessing Patients’ Assets, Risks, and Experiences). In comparison, in data collected from 220 clinic patients during 2020, 85 percent tested positive for food insecurity—and all were referred to the Pride Pantry.  Some 1,083 center clinic patients have accessed the service; 2,260 clients from all center programs have utilized the Pride Pantry, according to the most recent data.

Even before the pandemic hit, the Los Angeles LGBT Center wanted to offer a more robust food services program, according to Louis Guitron, the center’s director of case management. Prior to COVID-19, clients in need received support such as referrals to food pantries, assistance in applying to the federally-funded CalFresh nutrition assistance program, and grocery gift cards as incentives for attending in-person nutrition classes. The pantry is funded through grants, private donations, and corporate sponsorships, according to Pride Pantry manager Dina Valenzuela, administrative and events coordinator in the culinary arts department at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Food producers and suppliers donate excess food inventory. Food is also sourced from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, purchased through food distributors, or received via corporate donations. The center budgets $14.80 per person, to cover food and packaging, says Valenzuela.

Patients are grateful for the new, additional onsite food service. “What it means to me is an actual act of love for the community and those in need,” says Ja-Jah.  “With all that we’ve been through with the pandemic…you know you can depend on the pantry. It’s a simple act, but it is monumental.”