Sitting at a traffic stop on his way to work, Community Build, Inc. (CBI) president Robert Sausedo, saw a long line of panic-stricken people wrapped around the local grocery store. The date was March 13, 2020.  Two days earlier, the World Health Organization had declared the Coronavirus a pandemic.

As the head of a legacy nonprofit in South Los Angeles, Sausedo knew that it wouldn’t be long before shortages of daily essentials would impact all areas, but underserved communities of color, where families were already living on the economic margins, would be especially hard hit.  Sausedo, who is also an associate pastor, said a silent prayer and asked for guidance.

By the time he arrived at his office, he had begun to formulate a strategy for the Community Response System of South Los Angeles (CRSSLA).

The next day, Sausedo convened a conference call with forty community-based organizations, churches and stakeholders to discuss the idea of forming a coalition to pool assets and resources and provide supportive services based on three main pillars:  food distribution centers, emergency operation centers, medical triage and a central command center.

He reached out to Cheryl Branch, executive director of the nonprofit Los Angeles Metropolitan Church and a longtime colleague, to coordinate CRSSLA’s collaborative structure and the back office administration.  One of the first community partners to come aboard was Steve Wesson, from the University of Southern California’s Department of Community Engagement and Sam Garrison, vice president of Community Engagement.

USC provided a dozen student volunteers who assisted with categorizing each partner agency’s contributions and assets. “It was a true collaboration from the very beginning,” said Branch.  Knowing what and where resources were available was a key driver to CRSSLA’s early success.  Partner agencies were used to locate the need for resources as well as to be distribution centers.

“What was really important was our ability to get the call, mobilize, become distribution centers, become command centers and deploy emergency response and community health workers to places where it’s hard to reach people most in need,” said Branch.  
Since March of 2020, CRSSLA has distributed over 20 million pounds of food at dozens of locations through its partner agencies.

Mental health services, housing assistance, telehealth services are also part of CRSSLA’s network of assistance programs.
Since joining CRSSLA and starting the education committee, Naomi McSwain, executive director at the Al Wooten Jr Youth Center, has found an enthusiastic and dedicated group committed to student learning during and beyond the pandemic.  A training curriculum to assist education case managers to track and monitor student engagement while learning at home was developed and implemented.   Over 100 attendees from 45 agencies, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, participated in the 90-minute training sessions.
Sausedo is proud of that CRSSLA has become a true disaster response system initiated without the assistance of any government agency.

“This was about tapping into networks and leveraging assets and resources.  It’s the epitome of a grassroots effort,” said Sausedo.  “We were able to get organizations that had never worked together before to break through the barriers of individual organizations and work as a team to create something that is sustainable and scalable.”

CRSSLA’s reach expands across several council districts in South Los Angeles and there is now a San Diego chapter.  Sausedo said he has received calls from other parts of Los Angeles regarding setting up a community response system.

In a recent town hall meeting, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti thanked Sausedo and Branch for their leadership and acknowledged CRSSLA’s impact.  “This is a model that is not only saving lives in Los Angeles, this is a model that will go statewide and national because what happens in L.A., doesn’t just affect L.A., it affects the country and it affects the world.”

CRSSLA leaders are currently in talks with the Red Cross to continue to leverage the model across Los Angeles.  

For more information on CRSSLA visit  

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