LA meals maps maintain residents from lacking meals throughout pandemic

With the coronavirus-stay-at-home order, chances are one in five Los Angeles residents doesn’t know where to get their next meal. So city officials volunteered to offer online maps that lead Angelenos to food.

Under normal circumstances, according to the Los Angeles Foodbank, two million people – roughly 20 percent of the population – do not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. With schools closing in response to COVID-19, along with many restaurants and retail stores, access to food has become a bigger issue across the county.

“Food insecurity is a major concern in Southern California during normal times,” said Ron Galperin, Los Angeles City Controller. “Given the current situation where people are being asked to stay home and unemployment is rising, such problems are worsening.”

Galperin’s office created a new website with interactive maps that help people find nearby pantries, school district meal distribution centers, and grocery stores.

“My goal with this card was to do something that would provide Angelenos with immediate, tangible help,” said Galperin. “Even when schools and businesses are closed, families can still access healthy and nutritious meals.”

A real-time guide

The new website contains three different maps that show data from agencies in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), as well as existing maps. The maps were created by cartographers at Esri, a software provider for geographic information systems.

Ian Thompson, Ron Galperin’s communications director, said the idea behind the website is to give people definitive places to eat. So it’s not an additional challenge to find what they need. Thompson said the office started building the cards in early March when the virus spread across the US.

Direct access

The map on the new website shows the locations of local food pantries – nonprofit websites that distribute bags or boxes of groceries directly to those in need. Card users can click dots on the card to view the name of each pantry, as well as their address and phone number. Since most pantries are served by geographic coverage, the city’s residents can use the interactive map to find nearby locations more easily.

A number of organizations in the Los Angeles area provide food to those in need. One of the largest is the Los Angeles Food Bank, which has been working since 1973 to mobilize resources in the community to alleviate hunger. With a network of 30,000 volunteers and more than 600 partner agencies, the Los Angeles Food Bank has delivered more than 1.2 billion pounds of food.

The Controller’s Office recommends Angelenos contact the local pantry to check opening times and distribution dates and times as these details are subject to change. The website also advises that certain pantries may require photo identification and documents to verify needs.

Student meals

LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country with more than 1,000 schools and 600,000 students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. An estimated 80 percent of LAUSD students come from low-income families and receive free or inexpensive breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner at school. In addition, 26 percent of Los Angeles County’s children live in food insecure households.

Working with the American Red Cross, LAUSD is offering free breakfast and lunch through new Grab & Go grocery centers during temporary school closings. Families can pick up two nutritious meals per child each day. A total of 64 pick-up points with drive-through and / or inspection distribution have been set up throughout the school district of Los Angeles.

Residents can click the map to see the location of their nearest grocery collection point, as well as an address and website if available. So far, Grab & Go food centers have served millions of meals to students.

“Our goal today and tomorrow is to make sure we support our families as best we can,” said Austin Beutner, Superintendent of LAUSD.

Super Market

According to the US Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, California has the highest poverty rate in the country at 20.6 percent, and access to fresh, nutritious food is often a contributing factor.

In response, Galperin and his team wanted to use the cards to illustrate the ease or difficulty of accessing food in Los Angeles County in the face of the current health emergency.

The third map on the new website shows how many Angelenos, including low-income groups, live a reasonable distance from a supermarket. This data on a map makes it easy to see food accessibility in Los Angeles. Green dots on the map represent people living in poverty who live within one mile of a supermarket, while red dots indicate populations who live over a mile on foot but within a 10-minute drive if they have a vehicle.

“This story map … detailing how accessible supermarkets are to low-income Angelenos is very interesting and educational,” said Galperin. “It shows how well the city is organized to meet people’s needs.”

Food for everyone

In the face of an overwhelming world crisis, many people support and care for sick or elderly family members or friends. The new interactive food maps will help residents find food for themselves and their families during the COV-19 pandemic.

“We heard from several people that they used the map to find nearby pantries and places to pick up meals for their children every day,” Galperin said. “For me, that makes the cards successful. This card connects people in need with local food to help them get through this extremely difficult time. “

Christopher Thomas is the director of government markets at Esri.

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