Food Sovereignty Fund in Action
by Michelle Hughes, Associate Director of Regional Food Programs
It’s amazing what can happen when you get the right people in a room together—you can spark innovation, redirect resources to where they are needed most, or simply reinspire and fortify each other for the struggle ahead. A little bit of this magic happened when we gathered a group of Glynwood’s Food Sovereignty Fund (FSF) partners–farmers, Accountability Council members, and frontline food access workers—on a rainy early-October Wednesday to visit four food access organizations in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
We started the day at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in the South Bronx, where Rev. Matthew Engleby, Brian Lyons, and a team of long-time volunteers were preparing to distribute food to the hundreds of clients already waiting outside in the early morning drizzle. The distribution would include fresh produce sourced from FSF partner Star Route Farm. Brian remarked that the quality and freshness of Star Route’s produce has simplified their distribution logistics: with cooler space at a premium, the produce can be left out overnight and still be fresh and crisp when handed out the next day.
From St. Ann’s we traveled to the Center for Family Life (CFL) in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where we met with Community Service Program Director Smilie Filomeno and staff member Leomaris (Lee) Fernandez. As we entered the building, clients were awaiting services both inside and out. The pantry director was hurriedly cleaning up from the morning distribution, getting ready for the steady stream of clients in need of food—many of them migrants and asylum seekers just bussed in from the Texas-Mexico border—who would trickle in throughout the rest of the day.
When we finally had the chance to sit down, Simile and Lee delved into the dire migrant situation a bit more, explaining that many are arriving at the three shelters near their center with absolutely nothing and no idea how to find food or health care services, or to navigate New York City. Their staff, they said, is struggling to keep up with the need.
Our meeting provided a short respite in the middle of a long day of providing support and care. We shared a meal of vegan enchiladas and Smilie and Lee had the rare opportunity to sit down with Martin and Gaudencia Rodgriguez of Mimomex Farm, who had been supplying fresh produce to CFL pantry clients all season. On a typical Wednesday, Martin and Gaudencia would be quickly unloading crates of vegetables while clients anxiously awaited the fresh produce. But with the season over and therefore no deliveries, today they could sit and talk for a few minutes about the experience they had shared over the last few months.
As we left, Simile and Lee were immediately swept back into the sea of clients.
We moved on to Mixteca Organización, also in Sunset Park. After Executive Director Lorena Kourousias welcomed us into Mixteca’s brightly colored space, she explained that the organization was originally established to support the Mexican and Latinx communities in the neighborhood, and that they are now also assisting the massive influx of asylum-seekers. Even in the face of this extreme challenge, they did not change their philosophy, “Everyone deserves to eat the highest quality food.” she said. “I’d rather be able to give people a little bit of something high quality than a lot of junk. The fresh local produce they receive from FSF partner Angel Family Farm throughout the season is key to their mission.
The last and possibly the most moving stop of the day was the Church of the Good Shepherd in Bay Ridge. There we met with Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, a dedicated social justice activist, and one of the founders of the New Sanctuary Movement. The church had clearly become a multi-purpose space, with blankets for the 15 or so folks who would spend that night in the church piled in one corner, and a cafe of sorts operating out of the opposite corner. “There is always food available here for whomever needs it,” Rev. Ruiz said. He explained to us how Good Shepherd quickly went from serving food to two families a day to 4,000 people daily during the COVID pandemic, and how the fresh produce from the Food Sovereignty Fund fit into their pantry and cooked meals. He also told us that the pace of the pandemic took a real toll on him and the church’s staff and volunteers. “That level of need is still there,” he explained, “but the resources are not, so we’ve had to cut back.”
Walking out of the heavy church doors, the purpose of the day came into sharp focus. We had all witnessed and been moved by the beauty of providing not just any food, but the freshest produce possible to people in crisis; by the creativity and resilience of our under-resourced frontline partners; and by the extreme need that exists and is increasing daily. I, for one, felt the power of taking these moments to connect with each other and build community together.
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