South LA Cafe founders standing in front of one of their locations
Grant Recipient

July 18, 2023

Non-Profit Grant Awarded to South LA Cafe

South LA Cafe

Woman Entrepreneur:
Celia Ward-Wallace

We’re excited to announce the second $10,000 Non-profit Grant recipient of 2023. Congratulations to Celia Ward-Wallace, Co-owner of South LA Cafe.

Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Celia for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.

Video Transcript

WomensNet: Hi everyone. Welcome to a conversation with our nonprofit winner for the second quarter of 2023. Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Celia Ward-Wallace, who is the co-owner of the South LA Cafe.

I’m Marcia Layton Turner. I’m one of several WomensNet Advisory Board members, and I’m just lucky enough to get to chat with all of these winners, which is always fun. So Celia, thank you so much for your time today.

Celia: I’m so excited to be with you. I’m so excited to win and I’m so excited to talk to all of the amazing women in your community.

WomensNet: Well, let’s start at the beginning. How about you telling everyone a little bit about your nonprofit and its mission?

Celia: Well, I’m Celia Ward-Wallace, and I have a background in business coaching and building communities as well as community organizing. And I took all of those skills and I put it into my most recent venture, which is South LA Cafe, which is a community coffee shop, market and cultural center located right here in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, where my husband and I have lived most of our lives. We decided to create this amazing coffee shop and market to create access to food, to create a safe space for people to gather, and really just to create amazing resources here in our own local community and a community that’s been disadvantaged and sort of overlooked for a long time. 

Now, through the pandemic, we realized that the need of people getting access to food was just growing greater and greater. At that time, I think a lot of us remember we were afraid to go to grocery stores. And in this community, a lot of people don’t know what a food desert is, but a food desert is where you live in a community where there’s literally barely any grocery stores to go to. And the ones that you have to go to are really subpar. So there might be a Food For Less or a warehouse kind of thing, but not a Trader Joe’s or something that. 

So in these communities, we don’t even have those grocery stores. And then on top of that, during the pandemic, going to a grocery store was a scary thing. And so we were really concerned that the people in our community wouldn’t get access to food and we wanted to bridge that gap.

So we decided to launch what we call our South LA Grocery Giveaway, where you could buy a box of healthy vegetables and produce and really shelf-stable pantry items like beans and rice and pasta. And so we said, you have this healthy grocery box… you can buy it, or you can sponsor it for a neighbor in need. And at that time, we started getting all of these donations from all around the world of people wanting to sponsor groceries for a neighbor in need, even if they maybe were in another place – not in Los Angeles. They still were like, ‘this is amazing. These people are on the ground, they’re able to get food to people. Let’s sponsor these groceries.’ And it’s $50 to sponsor a bag of groceries. That’s enough to feed a family of four for an entire week.

And so we really struck a chord with people’s desire to give back, to be a part of positive change, to provide food to people who need it. And through that, we launched our non-profit arm of our organization called the South LA Community Foundation, also known as the Slac Foundation. And so basically, we have a for-profit and nonprofit that work hand in hand to service the same community. And we’re now coming up on over 165 weeks. We’ve been doing this since June of 2020. Every week we distribute 200 bags of groceries. It feeds over a thousand local residents. And so we now have fed over 150,000 people over the last three years.

WomensNet: Amazing. Really. Within the last, what, three years? Tremendous. What good work you’re doing.

Celia: Thank you.

WomensNet: Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re headed? What do you have planned for the future? It sounds like you’re innovative and always thinking about what else your community needs. I’m guessing you have some thoughts.

Celia: For sure. I come out of a business coaching and consulting background. And so creating like theories and frameworks and books and things to speak about so other people can take them and implement ’em in their own business or in their own life is what I do. I see myself as an educator. And so we’ve created something that we call the community-centered business model, which is like our proprietary framework that we teach to. We’ve used ourselves as a guinea pig and through these years of building what we’ve built, we’ve tried to track what’s worked, what hasn’t worked… what are the limitations, what are the roadblocks, what are the challenges, but what are the opportunities for success… What are the innovations that help, you know, really a small business or a small nonprofit make it.

And so this community-centered business model really thinks about the fact that if you are a nonprofit or a small business, which I’m sure many of your community members are, it’s very hard to make it, right? It’s very hard to create a sustainable small business or sustainable small nonprofit. And one of the tricks that we’ve come up with is when you put the community at the center of your model, then you become an essential service for that community. And the community then wraps its arms around you and says, ‘you’re essential to us.’ So, we’re invested in your survival and not just your surviving, but your thriving. 

And the other piece of this is, a lot of times when people have businesses or nonprofits, they’re just focused on what they wanna focus on. But when they start focusing on the essential needs of the community, they are seen as a community center.

So again, they’re seen as, this is an essential business or nonprofit in our community that is not just something that we wanna support – it’s something that we need to support. So for us, where we’re going is continuing to teach to this model so that we can help other small business owners, other nonprofit leaders actually create sustainability within their organizations and be able to put down roots and be able to be sustainable for the long term. Not be worried about whether they can make it through the year. 

And so that’s our focus for now. But in addition to that, our actual coffee shops that we have that we see as these community center hubs, we are expanding. Right now we have three locations. We’re getting ready to open up our fourth location in the fall, and next year we have three new locations opening as well. So I would say we’ll close 2024 out, probably somewhere around seven to eight locations. Again, our community-centered businesses that we’re putting in our neighborhoods.

WomensNet: Fantastic. So what are your immediate plans for the $10,000 grant? Do you have some specific things you’re going to focus on right away?

Celia: Well, honestly, I’m gonna focus on feeding people, right? That’s our number one need in the budget, to be able to support the continuation of feeding people. Like I said, $50 is our cost for one bag of groceries, and we’re feeding 200 people every single week. So you can do the math on that pretty quickly. So I would say that this $10,000 is gonna sponsor the upcoming third-year anniversary of the grocery giveaway that week that we’re gonna have coming up in September. I’m gonna put you guys down as one of our headline sponsors for that event. And $10,000 is what one week of groceries costs. And so this is the perfect fit for that. And we hope that your members feel inspired and wanna get involved, whether that’s through volunteering or amplifying, there’s so many ways that we can have their support.

WomensNet: That was gonna be my last question. What else can we do as a WomensNet community to support your organization? Given that so many of our community members are in other parts of the US and some are in other parts of the world, what are some things that we might be able to do online to support you?

Celia: Yeah, absolutely. For those listening, I’m gonna give you two different websites that you can go to. Our direct website to our nonprofit organization is SLAC Foundation, so it’s just S L A C, like South LA Cafe, so That’s the direct site right to our website for our foundation. If you specifically wanna sponsor groceries or you wanna make a tax-deductible donation of any amount, you can do it there. Who knows, maybe somebody listening in has $10,000 they wanna match and help us feed for another week of food for the community. 

But the other thing is you can go to, which is sort of our catchall that shows everything that we’re up to, as I mentioned on our for-profit, on our nonprofit, on our consulting arm. And you can find right there on the website, there’s an opportunity to sponsor groceries.

There’s an opportunity to become a monthly member for our organization, just a minimum of $10 a month. And by doing that, you’re investing in creating a sustainable economy for us. 

Also if you are local, there’s opportunities to volunteer. There’s just opportunities to sign up, get on our newsletter. Like I said, I come from the coaching industry and for so long, I’ve looked at all these emails that people send and they sort of spam people. We don’t do that. We only send information if we feel it’s valuable. It’s usually about our journey and what we’re going through, and trying to teach to what we’ve learned so that hopefully other people can have it a little bit easier or get there a little bit faster. So we’d love for you to sign up at the minimum just to stay in touch.

And then the last thing I would just say is if you are on Instagram, we have a very large following on Instagram, on SouthLACafe. It’s just all one word. And that way you can literally live time, keep up with everything that we’re doing. Today, we have a food distribution happening, and every single Wednesday, we do an Instagram live where we show the entire distribution and behind the scenes about making the groceries, about the distribution, about the staff. And so wherever you are in the world, you can tune in every Wednesday and get that little bit of hope, that little bit of faith. Then just feel like your heart is full of love.

WomensNet: Well, Celia, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story and help us better understand your nonprofit. And congratulations again on being our quarterly winner.

Celia:  Yay. Thank you, everybody. I appreciate you. I look forward to your support and sending lots of love back to you.

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