COVID-19 Food Insecurity: Brownsville Culinary Center Feeds Community

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Belmont Pantry serves the community. 
"We began feeding 200 meals a day to seniors, then scaled up to 2,000 meals per day."
[Black Lives in the Age of Covid-19]
As New York City closed all non-essential services on March 16 in response to Covid-19 the elderly who relied on daily healthy meals provided at hundreds of senior centers were confronted with a dilemma. Should they shelter-in-place with no food or risk exposure to the virus by venturing from their homes in search of something to eat?
LaToya Meaders anticipated the seriousness of the situation and began planning to address the need in Brooklyn’s Brownsville community. As Covid-19 spread across New York City’s poorest communities of color, Meaders, co-owner of Collective Fare Caterers at the Brownsville Community Culinary Center (BCCC), knew she had to help.
“We started this initiative on March 12. We began feeding 200 meals a day to seniors, then scaled up to 2,000 meals per day. We quickly realized the need was greater than we anticipated,” said Meaders. “We are currently feeding seniors, people who are immune-compromised, people who have various illnesses, as well as people who are in family shelters and our front-line essential workers.”
BCCC is a workforce development program that provides paid world class training in culinary arts to local youth ages 18 to 34-years-old. Pre-Covid-19, the fruits of labor from those youth was served in BCCC’s café-style restaurant, giving the trainees a full-service experience. When the crisis hit, many BCCC alumni were laid off from restaurant jobs across the city. Meaders decided to rehire them back at Collective Fare Caterers. “Most of our staff are comprised of alumni that we trained here at BCCC,” said Meaders. “My partner chef Rodney Frasier and myself brought our participants that graduated from the program back because they were laid off from various restaurant jobs. We are now employing them.”
Collective Fare at BCCC partnered with organizations such as Rethink that helped the initial scale up. The next phase was a partnership with World Central Kitchen which helped scale their meal program, preparing 2,000 meals a day. The meals are emblematic of what was served at BCCC pre-Covid. Healthy and spicy in a familiar way that Brownsville residents easily recognize, the meals are predominately vegetable and fruit based, with well-seasoned proteins consisting of meat and beans.
“We have a 10,000 square foot space. Upstairs we are currently preparing freshly made meals prepared by our staff at Collective Fair which is comprised of BCCC alumni. There is a pantry that is now an extension of our culinary school,” said Meaders. “In the basement our onsite partners Universe City and Brownsville Multi-Service Family Health Center are packing our pantry bags that we distribute here at our space on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we distribute those bags as well as meals into NYCHA Houses and the surrounding East Brooklyn community.”
Meaders coordinates administration, logistics, deliveries, and outreach to the community while she is eight months pregnant. “I might slow down soon,” she said. “But not yet.”
Another community liaison is Men Elevating Leadership. MEL assists with food deliveries and community engagement to encourage 6 feet distancing between pantry clients. “The plan is to help my community,” said Daniel Goodine, founder of MEL.
Councilwoman Alicka Ampry-Samuel surveyed the Ocean-Hill Brownsville area and organized food distributions directly to every NYCHA housing development and multi-unit apartment building in her district. “We are concerned about the health and economic equity of our district,” said Samuel. “All we want is for our communities to be treated with equity.”
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