United States - Trauma Healing through Access to Nutritious Meals

Trauma Healing through Access to Nutritious Meals

United States
Homeboy Industries - Feed Hope
Social Enterprise

Los Angeles has long been recognized as the epicenter of gang activity nationwide. Recent estimates indicate that there are over 400 active street gangs with a combined membership of roughly 45,000. This results in more than 150 homicides and 1,100 violent crimes being committed each year. 

For those who seek an exit from gang life, the challenges are immense: job prospects are limited, reintegration with the community is extremely difficult, and one’s safety from gang retaliation is a constant concern. Father Greg Boyle started Homeboy Industries (HBI) in 1992 to provide former gang members and those recently incarcerated with the support and skills needed to succeed in life after prison. HBI provides mental health counseling, legal services, tattoo removal, and work-readiness training to those who build the courage to walk through the nonprofits’ doors. A distinctive aspect of Homeboy Industries is its structure as a social enterprise, consisting of a diversified portfolio of businesses designed to balance providing jobs to trainees and generating an additional source of sustainable funding for the organization. This aspect of HBI provides trainees with an opportunity to acquire job skills and seek employment in a safe and supportive environment.      


What was the problem?

COVID-19 presented new obstacles for Homeboy Industries. In particular, two of HBI’s social enterprises, Homegirl Café and Homegirl Catering, were forced to close given local regulations in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Not willing to accept what closing would mean for employees, Arlin Crane (VP of Social Enterprise) and Mariana Flores (Director of Culinary Operations) launched Feed Hope, an emergency meal preparation organization that cooks, packages, and delivers nutritious, fresh meals to vulnerable communities in Los Angeles. Feed Hope started out small by producing 50 individual meals per week and quickly expanded to over 14,000 meals per week after being hired as a supplier by LA County. The pandemic significantly changed the food landscape across the US, with high unemployment producing long lines at food banks, interruptions in supply chains leaving shelves empty, and lockdowns prompting some consumers to stockpile shelf-stable groceries. This resulted in more than 1 in 4 (28.9%) Los Angeles residents dealing with food insecurity, defined as having limited or uncertain access to enough affordable and nutritious food to live an active, healthy life.

With the United States slowly bringing the pandemic under control through vaccinations and safety precautions, increased funding levels driven by the CARES Act will begin to diminish along with the elevated rates of food insecurity thus reducing the demand for prepackaged meals. HBI and Feed Hope sought our assistance in answering two critical questions:

  1. In a post-COVID world, should Feed Hope continue to operate as an emergency meal preparation organization?
  2. If Feed Hope continues to operate, how should the organization best position itself for growth?   

What did we do?

Prior to our departure to Los Angeles, our team completed extensive market research in the food systems and distribution industry with the goal of analyzing the competitive landscape for other packaged meal offerings, understanding the price sensitivity for a healthy premium offering, and identifying potential new customer segments. Dozens of interviews with various stakeholders such as government agencies, food banks, other NGOs, and the private sector provided the background needed to form our initial hypotheses and shape the team’s plan of action. Through our analysis, the team was able to create a shortlist of the most advantageous opportunities for Feed Hope to pursue in order to scale. After modeling Feed Hope’s future financials and evaluating the risks of each opportunity, the team pinpointed that there was one customer segment with the most potential: the LA county and city government.          

What was the turning point?

The team’s turning point occurred when interviewing a senior local government official who helped to shed light on Feed Hope’s true competitive advantage: providing high-quality, nutritious meals to the food insecure and serving as a re-entry program for marginalized members of society. Prospective customers would prefer to source their meals from Feed Hope due to their unique two-pronged mission-oriented approach. Additionally, the team learned that one of the largest segments of the population who face food insecurity, the senior population, is growing faster than any other age group. To make matters worse the fastest-growing population of homeless individuals is among older adults. In 2018 the number of homeless people 62 or older surged by 22%. With the combination of an aging population and the challenges surrounding COVID-19, the local government official explained that now was the time to act on food insecurity. This critical interview helped the team fully understand two important realizations: the food security crisis would not be going away in the near term and Feed Hope is uniquely situated to assist with combating this problem.   

What was the recommendation?

Our primary recommendations to HBI and Feed Hope were the following:

  • Build Internal Capacity to Become Competitive in Bidding For Government Contracts - The team discovered that the most sustainable and mission-aligned opportunity was to build capacity in order to become competitive when bidding for local government contracts to prepare and deliver meals for the food insecure. This opportunity provides Feed Hope with consistent demand for their product along with supporting their mission to serve the community in which they live and work.  
  • Spearhead an Internal Nutrition Initiative at HBI - In order to become a leader in the food and nutrition security sphere, it would be important for Homeboy Industries to build resiliency and healthy dietary behaviors internally through trauma-informed nutrition programs. The team built a strategic plan to help HBI implement nutrition activities such as hosting cooking classes that utilize local, inexpensive ingredients, registering all eligible clients with the CalFresh nutritional assistance program, and hiring an in-house nutritionist who will add value both to HBI’s internal nutrition initiatives and assist Feed Hope with meal planning.

Expand Feed Hope’s Advocacy Through Research and Policy Change - There is a plethora of research that highlights a growing interest in the role of nutritious food in physical and emotional wellbeing and presents new opportunities for Feed Hope to extend its impact as an advocate for higher nutrition standards in government-provided meals. The impact of doing so could aid in Feed Hope winning government contracts at a higher price point due to 1) higher nutritional standards that competitors don’t meet and that warrant a higher price and 2) a demonstration of the additional benefits to society.