LOS ANGELES — Since 1977, Community Services Unlimited has worked diligently to replace the food deserts that litter the South Los Angeles landscape with equitable, healthful and sustainable communities that are self-reliant, inter-relating and where every individual has the support and resources needed to develop to their fullest capacity.
Through its array of forward-thinking programs, the organization has ensured that thousands of families have access to healthier food options and have the resources needed to engage in health-building activities such as walking and biking.
For Community Services Unlimited, eating and living well is not a luxury, but a right that should be extended to everyone, no matter their socio-economic background.
“Our food justice work arises from and is firmly rooted within a broad understanding of the long term and systemic issues of racial and social inequities facing communities like South LA,” said Executive Director Neelam Sharma. “So we are not a one project wonder that will disappear once the funding goes away, but we are here to stay and to build long-term and systemic solutions to lack of access to good food and while doing that, build skills, quality jobs and health and wealth in South LA.”
While the focus is on transforming communities, it is a transformation rooted in the intimacy of family life and the importance that food and meals play in creating healthy, strong family dynamics.
That is why, for the four decades it has been in existence, the organization has committed itself to supporting and creating justice-driven community-based programs and educational initiatives, so that families can create dialogue and have awareness of critical issues that fundamentally affect their lives.
Nothing the organization does is in a vacuum and all of the organization’s programming has been developed in direct response to the needs expressed by community members in the various needs assessments they have carried out throughout the years. This has allowed Community Services Unlimited to work in partnership with the community to create a sustainable local food system where food is grown, distributed and bought within the community.
It has also been the blueprint they have used to create training and educational programs with the purpose of creating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities that are supported by partnerships with regional farmers.
In 2007, Community Services Unlimited continued to develop its services with the creation of the Village Market Place social enterprise that has since expanded into a Food Hub, located on the first floor of the newly opened Paul Robeson Community Wellness Center. The organization’s social enterprise arm consists of South Los Angeles’ first Beyond Organic produce market showcasing affordable, organic, culturally appropriate, exploitation-free food, wellness and beauty products.
The Food Hub contains SoulFul Catering, a commercial kitchen, and a developing urban farm, and provides rental spaces that the community can use for meetings, events and parties.
As for the future, the organization continues to raise money to deepen and enrich the programming offered at the Paul Robeson Community Wellness Center, a dynamic community space that in addition to housing the Food Hub, includes Community Services Unlimited’s headquarters. The center creates the possibility for unique opportunities to decrease the health disparities that have plagued South Los Angeles for years.
“[We] understand that there are unjust and destructive systems that have created the social and environmental injustices that impact our community,” Sharma said. “We will always respond with projects that focus on building awareness, leadership and positive change. All of the project activities are intertwined and are implemented in partnership with individuals and organizations in the community for the maximum impact. Come out and visit us at Vermont and 66th.”
Organization: Community Services Unlimited Inc.
Name: Neelam Sharma
Title: Executive Director
Location: 6569 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles