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Community Coalition: Improving Access to Nutritious Foods in South L.A.

April 30, 2012
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For more than 20 years, Community Coalition has worked to change environments that facilitate addiction, violence and poverty in South Los Angeles and has helped improve the community's access to healthier foods.

The Coalition, founded in 1990 to address the area's crack cocaine problem, was instrumental in the shut down of about 200 liquor stores, resulting in the conversion of these stores into businesses that bring community benefits, such as mini markets and hardware stores.

The organization targeted liquor stores because they served as gathering spots for drug trafficking, prostitution and loitering. In the early 1990s, there were more than 700 liquor stores in the area. Following the L.A. riots in 1992, the organization led a campaign to rebuild South L.A. without liquor stores.

According to Joanne Kim, chief operating officer of Community Coalition, "About 15 of the liquor stores that were destroyed in the riots reopened as markets, offering the neighborhood a greater selection of healthier foods."

The group also launched a food quality campaign in 1998 in response to community concerns about the lack of quality food items at a Ralph's grocery store. Residents held demonstrations and discussed the chain's practice of selling expired meats and rotting produce. "The campaign reshaped the debate around food access," Kim adds, noting that it also illustrated how a grocery chain's practices vary by neighborhood and resulted in the store's clean-up on Western and Manchester avenues.

The Coalition and other community groups are working with the City of Los Angeles on a pilot program to expand access to nutritious foods in underserved communities. Under the Community Market Conversion Program, four convenience stores in South L.A. will be converted into healthy food markets this summer. In addition to the stores' carrying more fresh fruits and vegetables, the program will offer events and workshops on health, nutrition and community wellness.

Kim says there is more awareness of the need to improve access to healthy foods in urban communities. And with the 20th anniversary of the civil unrest this month, it's a "good time to reflect on what's been done and what's left to do." The goal, she adds, is to "keep striving for improvement."

This article originally appeared on the Best Start website. As part of First 5 LA's Eat Healthy, Grow Strong public education campaign, Best Start is putting the spotlight on organizations that are working in communities to increase access to healthier foods. By partnering with communities at the grassroots level, they're hoping to make long-term changes in the way people think about, buy and eat food.

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