LOS ANGELES, CA – When the Paul Robeson Community Wellness Center opened on Sat., August 18, it launched a hub for fresh, local food in South Central LA. But it also showcased a new kind of equitable community development spurred by a $1 million program-related investment (PRI) from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and support from civic and business organizations.
Named to honor the legendary actor, athlete, singer and activist, this dynamic, community-driven social enterprise will create new jobs and offer services to meet the daily needs of residents, including access to high quality, culturally appropriate, affordable food.
Community Services Unlimited, Inc. (CSU), a nonprofit serving South Los Angeles for more than 40 years, purchased the Robeson Center in 2015, and embarked on an ambitious plan to transform the 10,000 square foot lot and building into a hub for health and wellness initiatives, a convening place for residents, and a model for equitable community development.
Last Month’s grand opening displayed the new center’s offerings to the community. On the first floor is South LA’s first “Beyond Organic” produce market, a café serving healthy foods, a market distribution center and a commercial kitchen. The second-floor features a community meeting space, CSU’s headquarters, and rental space available for community organizations. An urban farm, serving the market with fresh produce and other products, will surround the building and be on the rooftop. There will also be outdoor classrooms.
“The creation of the Paul Robeson Wellness Center is the latest manifestation of CSU’s ongoing commitment to create a sustainable food system that brings good food, educational programs and jobs to the South LA community,” said Neelam Sharma, CSU’s executive director. “This unprecedented space in South Los Angeles meets a critical community need for resources and services, while revitalizing the neighborhood and serving as a model for community self-sufficiency and self-reliance.”
Cynthia Muller, director of WKKF’s Mission Driven Investments, described the potential impact of the low interest, ten-year, $1 million loan. “This amazing center will increase the community’s access to healthy food, and serve as a model for other communities, nationally. We are so excited that it will create opportunities for children to learn more about healthy foods and wellness, leading them to more successful and healthier life outcomes.”
While grantmaking is one tool for changemaking, WKKF’s impact investing seeks to generate both social and financial returns, while also advancing the mission to ensure all children thrive. “In a fast-changing world with scarce resources and complex challenges facing children, families and communities,” said Muller, “it is imperative that we look for additional ways to put investment capital to work for greater impact.”
She also noted that WKKF aims to address the root causes of racial inequity and bias by harnessing the power of the capital markets. “Children are at the core of everything we do at the Kellogg Foundation,” she said. “But we know that for children to thrive, their families need to make a living and their communities need to be places of equitable opportunity.”
Among the other contributors and supporters of the Center are: Whole Cities Foundation, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Designing Futures Foundation, Metabolic Studios/ Annenberg Foundation, U.S. Green Building Council Los Angeles Chapter, City National Bank, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CA Fresh Works, LIFT Economy and Self -Help Credit Union.
Sharma said the market’s direct relationship with farmers and connection to CSU’s urban mini-farms will keep produce costs low, allowing the market to sell food prepared with seasonal, local, and beyond organic produce at prices competitive with restaurants using lower quality ingredients. The cost of produce from CSU’s urban mini-farms is subsidized by donated land, water and volunteer labor, making the cost of production far below that of competing organic producers. Additional produce is purchased from small farmers who come into Los Angeles to sell at area farmer’s markets
“By purchasing produce directly from farmers,” she said, “the market gets the best price possible for the highest quality product and provides guaranteed sales for farmers coming into the city.”
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About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to help break the cycle of poverty by removing barriers based on race or income that hold back children, so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.
The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti.