Councilman Herb Wesson believes in second chances. He also believes in looking out for those down on their luck, and there’s no better example of these values that Wesson embodies than the food box giveaway program he started when COVID-19 struck in March.
Since the pandemic began, Wesson has personally organized the delivery of more than 1.5 million pounds of food to families in need and senior citizens. As a Councilman, he has delivered meals to those in need in the City of Los Angeles, and as a candidate for Supervisor, he has used his limited campaign resources to expand the food box program and deliver meals to those in need throughout the Second Supervisorial District, including in Carson, Inglewood, and Compton.
To make the program possible, Wesson partnered with several local non-profits including Mothers in Action and Community Inc. and hired a team of four people to put the boxes together and deliver the boxes. All four members of the team were recently incarcerated, some for decades.
“The United States is the land of second opportunities,” said Wesson. “We all make mistakes, but true character is built and revealed in how we respond to these mistakes. Your life shouldn’t be ruined forever because of one mistake. One of the biggest flaws in our criminal justice system is that we don’t have real pathways from being incarcerated to going back into society and contributing as a productive member of it.”
Terry Dean, one of the employees who helps put the food boxes together and deliver them, served 25 years in state prison. When he got out, he had trouble finding a good job that would hire him given his criminal record. Then he got connected with Wesson and his team.
“Coming out you’re stereotyped,” said Terry. “Being incarcerated makes it hard to get a good job. But Herb Wesson and his team gave me the opportunity to try to better myself and give back. Instead of the negativity I used to feel, I’m all about being positive now, and I’m out here being positive doing good things.”
For Terry, this new job has been more than just a way to pay the bills and get back on his feet. It’s a way for him to give back to those in need, and a way for him to make peace with some of his decisions earlier on in his life.
“Herb didn’t have to take a chance on me,” Terry said. “But he opened his arms and gave me a chance. I respect and appreciate him to the highest degree.”
While Wesson’s food box program has been a new opportunity for second chances, anti-recidivism and gang reduction has been a priority of Wesson’s throughout his career. Before the Mayors’ Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development was created in 2008, Wesson implemented programs like Safe Passage to create peace on the blocks so students could walk to school safely, and the Midnight Hoops program to provide at-risk youth a productive activity for after-school. He also has three formerly incarcerated people on his City staff.
On the policy front, Wesson was instrumental in the City’s legislation to “Ban the Box,” which made it illegal for employers to ask job applicants whether they have a felony on their record.
And according to Wesson, he has no plans to slow down the food box delivery program anytime soon.
“The need for assistance to the community is overwhelming,” Wesson said. “I don’t see this program that we’re doing now stopping anytime soon. It’s about always being there. It’s about the public knowing you’re going to deliver.”