Clinic ramps up free food giveaways as need increases

Rita Martinez had been stressed out, afraid of having to go to a grocery store to buy food. With the “safer at home” order in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, activities that used to seem simple to her now felt overwhelming.

“I am so happy and grateful – this is such a great service the Clinic is doing,” she said as she waited in line wearing a black face covering. “Coming to pick up this food makes me feel so relieved. I don’t have to worry about not being able to buy food or not having enough to feed my family.”

This was Martinez’s first visit to one of Venice Family Clinic’s free food markets. She was among the 852 people we served on April 14 and the 60% of recipients who were also patients attending a Clinic food giveaway for the first time. We expected 600 people.

“Here at the Clinic, we know that there’s a lack of adequate access to affordable, healthy food in our community,” said Rigoberto Garcia, director of health education at Venice Family Clinic. “We are committed to reducing this food insecurity by providing nutritious produce and wholesome food, free to all patients and the community, and we’ll provide a dignified experience while we do it.”

To meet the growing needs of our patients and community, the Clinic plans to hold free food giveaways once a week – more frequently than we’ve ever held the events before. About 20% of attendees on April 14 were community members who aren’t currently our patients.

Meeting our community’s needs

COVID-19 has transformed how we conduct our free food markets. To protect the safety and well-being of our patients, staff, and volunteers, the Clinic has shifted this operation to pre-bagged food, eliminating the shopping-style markets we used to hold. People can walk up or use our new drive-thru to pick up their bags of produce.

At this most recent free food giveaway, we stuffed bags with mushrooms, yellow onions, cabbage, dragon fruit, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, honeydew, mangoes, green onions, and bananas from our partner Food Forward. We were also able to add non-perishable items such as rice, pasta, beans, bread, and canned soups and tuna from the Westside Food Bank. We also included recipes written by our nutrition specialist that use the items found in these bags.

In addition to the people we served through four Clinic sites – which included the main giveaway site at our Simms/Mann Health and Wellness Center, Irma Colen Health Center, Common Ground serving our HIV patients, and Children First Early Head Start families – we also provided 890 bags of food to eight community organizations to distribute at their sites.

In total, we gave away 19,720 pounds of food to nearly 1,750 people throughout Los Angeles that day.

“Thanks to the generosity of our donors and partners, we can help when a patient tells us they are food insecure,” Garcia said. “Providing essentials such as food not only has been appreciated by the patients but by others, too. The staff and volunteers who have helped us fill and distribute the bags have really seen firsthand how a bag of food can bring such joy to a patient.”

We need volunteers to help us package and hand out food at upcoming free food markets. Learn how you can become a volunteer.