SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The seed that would eventually spawn Groceryships began on Sam Polk’s and his wife Kirsten’s couch several years ago while watching a documentary about healthy eating.
Kirstin, who had been on Lipitor for high cholesterol since her 20s, broke into tears when a man with the same problem was able to drop his cholesterol in half after adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
The couple changed their eating habits and Kirsten soon found that she no longer needed to take Lipitor.
The experience, along with other impactful documentaries, brought the couple a heightened awareness of the food deserts and food insecurities that affect so many families so they decided to do something about it.
After a series of emails between Father Greg Boyle — one of the founders of Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit that provides job opportunities for former gang members and the recently incarcerated — and some donations, Polk had enough funding to start making a difference and had a spot at Homeboy to pilot his program.
Since its inception in 2014, Groceryships has provided grocery scholarships to more than 100 families to buy fruits, vegetables and grains for 20 weeks.
The families who get Groceryships are provided support on three levels, including educational, economic and community building.
Participants attend weekly two-hour meetings. The first hour is dedicated to learning about nutrition, cooking and shopping so they can increase the amount of fresh foods and whole grains their families intake on a daily basis.
In the second hour, members talk about the challenges of maintaining a healthy diet when surrounded by so many unhealthy eating options.
Focus is centered on discussions about addictive foods and the withdrawal symptoms that come from leaving them, belief-systems around food, and emotional eating, a problem that Polk was once very familiar with.
“I come from a family that struggles a lot with health,” Polk said. “My dad has diabetes and I was overweight as a kid, so I always had a fraught relationship with food. … Food was a relief from stress and anxiety.”
In December 2016, 10 groups with over 80 members from South L.A. graduated from the Groceryships program.
Groceryships is slowly growing and every year, Polk and the Groceryships improve the quality of life of many more underserved families.
“Healthy food is a human right,” Polk said, “and shouldn’t be a luxury food to only a few.”
Interim CEO: Dana Rizer
Annual budget: about $300,000
Number of employees: 5
Years in operation: 4
Location: 3655 S. Grand Ave.
Suite 210, Los Angeles, 90007