It doesn’t take a village: Five North Long Beach residents band together to feed their community

From left to right, Karen Patron, Diego Cuevas, Carlos Omar (bottom), Stephanie Flores and Elmer Acevedo, who hosted their first food drive this past Saturday, Oct. 1 at Ricardo’s Nursery. (Emma DiMaggio | Signal Tribune)

This past Saturday, the members of the Norfside Long Beach Food Drive woke in the early hours of the morning. With boxes of food in tow, they headed to Ricardo’s Nursery to begin their first-ever food drive.

Eight months into a pandemic that’s left many struggling, food drives are popping up all over the city. Whether it’s free lunches from Long Beach Unified School District or free groceries from nonprofits, organizations are chipping in to help quell the food insecurity brought on by the pandemic.

But not all of these organizing efforts are done by large organizations. In North Long Beach, five young residents decided to take organizing into their own hands.

What began as an Instagram post by North Long Beach resident Stephanie Flores turned into a five-member group focused on a singular goal— create 50 boxes of food for 50 families in their community.

“I got tired of complaining about not seeing change,” Flores said. “‘Instead of complaining, being negative about it, do something about it,’ at least that was my conversation to myself. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Flores, Carlos Omar, Karen Patron, Diego Cuevas and Elmer Acevedo saw how the pandemic affected North Long Beach families.

“We don’t have fancy buildings or fancy shopping malls. Our infrastructure is not all that well,” Patron said, citing a lack of investment in their community. “So the accessibility of resources is not that great.”

[pullquote speaker=”Stephanie Flores, organizer of Norfside Long Beach Food Drive” photo=”” align=”center” background=”off” border=”all” shadow=”off”]A big part of it is we all have that equal love for our community. That’s what really motivated us to do it.[/pullquote]

Acevedo pointed out that, with many small businesses shuttering, bodega prices began to surge during the pandemic.

“Everyone from Northside was relying on Walmart, Costco, Target. The few stores that were open, the little bodegas, were charging way too much for their goods. A gallon of milk was like $5.30, which is more than a gallon of gas,” Acevado said. “I felt like, by doing a food drive, we could help out people who are wasting so much money at the local stores who can’t drive to other options.”

After a couple of Zoom chats and meetups in the park, the Norfside Long Beach Food Drive was born.

“[The pandemic] just made things that already exist more clear. Specifically in [terms of] inequities. There’s been a sense of neglect up here,” Omar said. “I think it’s motivated people to help more too, because I think COVID has in some ways made people’s issues stand out more, whether it’s lack of food, housing or transportation.”

In 2018, the median household income in North Long Beach was $45,878, with over three-quarters of those households representing families, according to city data.

Data from 2016 shows areas like North Long Beach have substantially higher percentages of poverty than East Long Beach. (City of Long Beach) (Emma DiMaggio)

North Long Beach neighborhoods have substantially higher percentages of poverty than neighborhoods in East Long Beach, according to city data from 2016.

Omar first noticed these inequities by using the bus to commute to California State University, Long Beach. His route allowed him to see different areas of Long Beach, and notice the contrast between neighborhoods.

“You see the homes are nicer in these parts, or ‘Oh, it’s quieter and cleaner in these parts. There are more businesses that are hyped in these parts, I wonder why that is?’ There are more fancy-looking buildings. There are more bus stops the lower you go,” Omar said. “I think in recent years, it’s clicked the reasons why, or the reasons behind that have been clicking more and more. It’s just not natural. There’s nothing natural about a ghetto.”

Even though the area’s councilmember Rex Richardson has been attempting to infuse the area with capital, Uptown Commons being one example, Omar believes there’s still a long path forward to addressing inequities in the city.

“A more recent change isn’t going to make up for decades of how it’s been,” Omar said.

The Norfside Long Beach Food Drive was just one attempt to address these inequities.

“The first time we met, I was like, ‘If anything, I know none of us have experience doing this, but there’s a first time for everything. If we fail, we fail and we learn from it. We can only get better from here,’” Flores said. “A big part of it is we all have that equal love for our community. That’s what really motivated us to do it.”

Stephanie Flores hands a bottle of water and other essential groceries at the Norfside Long Beach Food Drive on Saturday, Oct. 1. The recipient’s face has been blurred at the request of the organizers. (Emma DiMaggio | Signal Tribune)

After a month of organizing, the team finally began to receive monetary and food donations.

“We started receiving food that way,” Omar said. “It was usually Stephanie at first saying, ‘We can take that.’ Literally just finding places to store them in our own homes.”

Flores said that the majority of food donations came from other Northside residents, many of whom were the same age as her.

“They’d be like, ‘I’m so thankful that you guys are locals from North Long Beach just like me, doing this, because I love my community just like you, and you doing this makes me feel like I can also contribute,’” Flores said. “Maybe they weren’t part of the organizing, but they were still very much a part of it like we were. It felt like a collective effort, being able to have other people from the Northside also contribute.”

The organizers of the Norfside Long Beach Food Drive gathered enough monetary and food donations to create 50 boxes of food. On the morning of Saturday, Oct. 10, organizers helped recipients carry boxes of food to cars parked in nearby neighborhoods. (Emma DiMaggio | Signal Tribune)

Flores, who spearheaded the food drive, said that she was fearful in the beginning stages of organizing.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. It was kind of nerve-wracking because I didn’t know what to do,” Flores said. She hopes that her experience will help inspire others to help out in their community.

“To someone who wants to start [organizing], don’t be afraid. Fear is going to be the only thing that really blocks you from doing something,” Flores said. “For me, the first step was just posting. From there, it was creating a group chat, and from there it was meeting in person. If you have the means and the will to do it, then you can do it.”

As for the future of the Norfside Long Beach Food Drive, Patron said that right now is a time of reflection for the group.

“I think the food drive is just the start. We’re hoping we can provide more, or do more of a mutual aid sort of thing,” Patron said. “The way I see it, it’s just the start of something bigger. Hopefully, we bring more of a sense of community to people here in the Northside, and they remember that no matter who we are, where we are, we’re connected and we can help each other out.”

For more information about the Norfside Long Beach Food Drive, visit their Instagram page.


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