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Person to Person Outreach – How Community Services Unlimited is spreading the word about its new produce program

Community Services Unlimited Inc. (CSU), a South LA community-based organization whose mission is to “Serve the people, body and soul,” is teaming up with the Children's Bureau, the Children's Nature Institute and other partners to host a new organic produce stand and produce bag subscription program, based at the Magnolia Place Family Center at 1910 Magnolia Ave. Local residents will have a chance to purchase affordable, locally grown, “beyond organic”[1] produce right in their neighborhood.

In an effort to spread the word, staff and volunteers from CSU and several of the other organizations affiliated with the project have been walking door-to-door in the area around Magnolia Place, ready to hand out flyers and eager to have conversations with local residents about the new produce program. MetaConnects team member Garrett Broad recently joined the group for a morning of outreach. Their efforts were a reminder that, even in a time of television, the Internet and social media, the time-tested strategy of “person to person” community outreach remains one of the best ways to let local residents know about the work of a local community organization.

“We practiced a methodology called door knocking,” CSU staff member Denise Burgher explained. “That's where you literally go door-to-door in a community to meet community members face-to-face, to give them information about whatever program or whatever event that you're doing.”

Some people might be familiar with the idea of precinct walking, when old-fashioned politicians would get to know their constituents by actually going out into the community and meeting residents in and around their homes. This type of precinct walking remains a mainstay of grassroots community outreach, not only in electoral politics, but also in the work of community-based organizations like CSU.

“It's a time-tested method of meeting with people, interacting with people, introducing yourself, the work that you do, who you are, and establishing a relationship that forms the basis of any community service organization,” Denise continued.

CSU staff members insist that while the strategy is nothing new, the time-consuming and challenging nature of the work means that many organizations do not always maintain door-to-door canvassing as part of their outreach work. CSU relies on a network of staff members and volunteers, as well as current and former youth interns, to help them connect with as many community members as possible.

Lawrence DeFreitas, CSU's Youth and Volunteer Programs Coordinator, has been part of several efforts that utilize this strategy, including a project in which CSU supports local corner stores like Mama's Chicken on Slauson Avenue to increase the quality and quantity of their produce offerings. Lawrence recently went out on a Saturday morning with CSU staff, volunteers, and youth intern alumni to get the word out to local residents, and he expects that the positive feedback they received on that morning will help them achieve their goals.

“That kind of door-to-door, face-to-face exchange is something that has had an effect for any grassroots organization that has got strong community support,” Lawrence explained.

In the neighborhood surrounding Magnolia Place, community members from all walks of life seemed excited about the new produce program. Several young parents were particularly interested in having a place nearby where they could purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for their children. Business owners placed posters in their shop windows, and volunteers lined residents' front steps with handbill advertisements.

“Es muy necesario,” a woman replied after learning about the program. “No hay, no hay,” she went on, referring to the present lack of availability of fresh produce in the neighborhood.

The produce stand is one of several operated by CSU through their award-winning “Village Market Place” program. They also supply fruits and vegetables to a stand at the St. John's Clinic, at the LA County/USC Medical Center, and right next to their mini urban farm at Exposition Park. These projects are intertwined with other CSU efforts, including their support of corner markets, their farming and food-based education internship and apprenticeship programs for South LA youth, and their gardening and cooking workshops with local adults.

The new produce stand is in line with CSU's vision of building a sustainable food system from the ground up in South Central LA, while training local youth, creating real jobs and building the local economy.

“It's exactly the community that we serve,” Denise explained. “And by bringing organic fruits and vegetables at the price point we do, this is exactly what we're about."

CSU's “beyond organic” fruits and vegetables, as well as other jarred goods, jams, and herbs, can all be purchased at their produce stand, or through an affordable produce bag subscription.

Beginning February 16, the produce stand will be open every Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

To learn more about Community Services Unlimited, check out their website CSUInc.org


[1]     CSU calls its produce “beyond organic” to signify that it is grown organically, without artificial chemicals or fertilizers, and that they choose to not participate in the expensive and onerous USDA organic certification process.


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