Long Beach looks to address food insecurity in wake of grocery closures

Union representatives, grocery workers and community members at a press conference and rally at a North Long Beach Food 4 Less in solidarity with workers fighting against parent company Kroger’s planned closure of the grocery store on Wednesday, Feb. 3. The closure was announced after city council approved a temporary hazard pay for grocery workers. Photo by Lissette Mendoza

In the wake of two grocery store closures in North and East Long Beach, the Long Beach City Council directed city staff to work with the Health Department to establish a food security plan at Tuesday’s meeting. 

On Feb. 1, Kroger Co. announced that it planned to close both a Food 4 Less and a Ralph’s in response to the council’s ‘hero pay’ ordinance, which requires large grocers to pay their employees an additional $4 hourly in hazard pay. Both locations are planned to close on April 17. 

“This announcement comes at a time when our nation is again facing unprecedented levels of unemployment and food insecurity,” Vice Mayor Rex Richardson said. “We know that there may be a shock to the system if this grocery store closes.”

The item, brought forward by Richardson and Councilmembers Mary Zendejas and Cindy Allen, doesn’t outline specific actions. Rather, the item directs the city manager and Health Department to work together to come up with a strategy to address food insecurity.

“It’s critical that we treat food security as a basic right of our residents and develop a plan to make sure that we are all actively working on ways to preserve and expand access as a matter of policy,” Zendejas said, pointing out that food insecurity was a problem long before the pandemic.

Nationwide, food insecurity has doubled overall and tripled among households with kids, according to a 2020 report from the Northwestern Institute for Policy Research

Richardson encouraged city staff to look into opportunities for pop-up markets, food pantries and direct delivery to residents, much like other programs the City has pursued during the pandemic.

“Our most immediate need is to ensure that the needs of local residents are met,” Richardson said.

During public comment, Joey King from the Collins Neighborhood Association gave his support to the item. The association has collaborated with local food pantries and community organizations to distribute food during the pandemic. 

He ended his statement with a quote by David Nasby, former vice president of General Mills: “America is the richest country in the world. And yet tonight, thousands of your neighbors will go to bed hungry. It may be your child’s schoolmate who is undernourished and has difficulty learning on an empty stomach. Or it could be a co-worker, a working mother whose low-wage job doesn’t make ends meet. Perhaps it’s an elderly neighbor who has to make a decision whether to delay filling a prescription or buying groceries. The faces of hunger are as broad as the faces of America.”

The next Long Beach City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, March 2 at 5 p.m. via teleconference. 

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