The Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion formed in early March, a careful construct out of the Everyone In equity efforts.
Plans called for a ramp-up period to consider different programs that would have the most impact, then begin putting them in place.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“We were incorporated in March, and thought we might have some programs start by June,” said Bob Cabeza, chair of the LBCEI board and recently retired vice president for community development for the Long Beach Area YMCA. “Then in one go we had to get up to warp speed. We made the decision to really invest in the low income community of color, where the need was immediate.”
Cabeza, his board and interim executive director Jeff Williams looked for where programs could start immediately. They decided to focus on three areas — food needs, lack of technology and help to small businesses.
LBCEI was an outgrowth of the Everyone In equity effort started by Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson, who got approval from the entire City Council to move forward with initiatives. LBCEI is the community development corporation designed to help underrepresented families and small businesses in north, central and west Long Beach.
A budget of $250,000 was set for the #InThisTogether campaign, LBCEI’s response to the pandemic emergency. The money came from Wells Fargo Bank, BRIDGE Development Partners and Richardson’s office. Once the campaign started, United Way, LISC-LA and the Long Beach Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund offered more financial support.
“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.”
A partnership with nine churches and nonprofits beefed up a chain of nine food pantries to serve those in need. LBCEI worked with Food Finders and other sources to increase the amount of food available.
At the same time, a partnership with Organic Harvest Gardens allowed delivery of produce and staples to more than 300 home-bound seniors. The United Cambodian Community and Heart of Ida help there.
Williams said in an email that work has begun to make these programs sustainable over a longer period of time.
Cabeza gets passionate when he talks 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, to move resources to address these issues.
“Study history, and you’ll see that Black, (Asian), Brown people have been shut out of the White economy. It’s a matter of generational wealth. We can only change that with education and resources. These people need a leg up.”
In addition to helping owners apply for government grants, LBCEI has created a Small Business Navigators program to coach owners with business plans, information and marketing. A Kiva loan fund has been created to offer micro-loans to those needing help through the COVID-19 crisis, and a special focus on more than 150 small businesses in north Long Beach has been carried out.
Another initiative specifically targets barber shops and hair salons. These small businesses have had an especially hard time surviving the shutdown, and again are owned almost exclusively by minorities.
Finally, LBCEI has donated 200 laptop computers to families and students who otherwise would not have access to technology. The agency also is 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.”
For more information about LBCEI, its programs or to get involved, go to lbcei.org.