The Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion faced a test with life-or-death consequences almost as soon as it formed — and has so far, it seems, succeeded.
The center, which grew out of the Everyone In Economic Inclusion Implementation Plan that the City Council approved last year, incorporated in March; its ultimate goal is to launch programs that would create equity in Long Beach, a city that has long seen disparities in various quality-of-life indicators — income, health, technology access — between the white population and people of color, especially the Black community.
The organization’s initial plan was to have a ramp-up period to consider which programs would have the most impact before putting them in place. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
So the center adapted. It nixed the ramp-up, decided to focus its efforts on reducing food insecurity, improving technology and helping small businesses — hit hard when the stay-at-home orders forced all non-essential businesses to close in an effort to stem the spread of the virus — in low-income communities of color. The center’s #InThisTogether campaign began with a $250,000 budget and has so far helped increase supplies at nine food pantries, provided healthy meals to 300 home-bound seniors, donated laptops to low-income students and helped small businesses apply for government assistance.
“In one go, we had to get up to warp speed,” said Bob Cabeza, chair of the LBCEI board. “We made the decision to really invest in the low income community of color, where the need was immediate.”
Once the pandemic changed the center’s plans, Cabeza, his board and interim Executive Director Jeff Williams worked on securing money to help fund programs they could get off the ground quickly. Money came in from Wells Fargo Bank, BRIDGE Development Partners and the office of Ninth District Councilmember Rex Richardson, who led the creation of the Everyone In plan, which was largely designed to help underrepresented families in north, central and west Long Beach.
Once the #InThisTogether campaign started, United Way, LISC-LA and the Long Beach Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund offered more financial support.
Then, the real work began.
“We partnered with community nonprofits to work on the food security issue,” Cabeza said. “We helped a lot of small business owners fill out grant forms and the like. And we focused on seniors who were isolated and in need of food.”
The LBCEI also worked with the nonprofit Food Finders and other sources to increase the amount of food available at various food pantries and partnered with Organic Harvest Gardens to deliver produce and staples to more than 300 seniors.
Now, the center has begun working to make those programs sustainable over the long term, Williams, the center’s executive director, said in an email.
Cabeza became passionate when he talked about efforts to help small businesses — especially those owned by Blacks and other minorities.
“It’s in our name — economic inclusion for all,” he said. “We focus on the small mom-and-pop stores. This will take you to the underbelly of Long Beach, the poverty that’s the reality for many.
“The city has to change,” Cabeza added, “to move resources to address these issues.”
The center has also helped small-business owners apply for government grants, and created a Small Business Navigators program to help owners come up with business plans, and perform marketing. A loan fund has also been created to offer micro-loans to those needing help during the coronavirus pandemic.
LBCEI’s third goal, narrowing the technology gap, has so far included donating 200 laptops to families and students who couldn’t otherwise afford them. The agency is also advocating for lower-cost internet access.
“We wanted to help those college kids living in cars,” Cabeza said. “We work with those who are going to college despite poverty. Education is their way out, and we want to help them.”