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South LA Hospitality Workers Get Free Farm Boxes

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Fresh vegetables are displayed at a Friday Farmer's Market in Monterey Park, California on September 29, 2017. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
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More than 1,000 low-income families in South L.A. are getting free farm boxes stocked with produce and eggs. It's the result of a new partnership between Los Angeles County and several local non-profits including SEE-LA, an organization that works to build sustainable food systems.

The recipients of these farm boxes are members of Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hotel, restaurant and other hospitality workers, many of whom have been laid off or furloughed in recent weeks.

SEE-LA is donating the boxes to the 1,100 families every Wednesday, starting today and continuing for the next four weeks.

The boxes contain a dozen eggs and a week's worth of seasonal produce provided by regional farmers. That typically includes five to seven kinds of vegetables, 10 pounds of oranges and berries. The boxes also contain information about public nutrition benefits and incentive programs.

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With more than 2 million Californians filing for unemployment last week, the pandemic is taking an unprecedent financial toll on many residents, particularly those who were struggling before coronavirus. According to early data, most Americans who have received their stimulus checks are spending them on groceries and fast food. For people who live in areas without many places where they can buy fresh produce, even that is a challenge.

Prior to the outbreak, farmers markets often filled that void. L.A. farmer's markets have been required to accept CalFresh/EBT as a form of payment since 2013, providing low-income Angelenos with much-needed access to vegetables and fruit.

A couple weeks ago, officials cracked down on farmers markets after photos of shoppers crowding the one in Santa Monica went viral. Some farmers markets have since closed while others have limited capacity and begun enforcing strict social distancing guidelines.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hopes the farm box program is a double-win — helping farmers who would normally sell their produce at public markets while feeding Angelenos who are struggling to put food on their tables.

"This partnership is meant to ease the burdens of families across South Los Angeles, providing them with healthy food options that they can cook at home," he said in a press release. "In turn, local farmers have the chance to distribute their produce and keep their businesses afloat."

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SEE-LA normally operates three nonprofit farmers markets in South L.A. — at the MLK Outpatient Center, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and the Central Ave Market. The organization has partnered with five of the farms they usually work with to fill the boxes.

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