Free meals, community fridges & urban gardens: which long-term solutions could solve hunger?
By Katy Prohira
In March of 2020, a visit to some of Miami’s most established community food distribution sites meant waiting in line for upwards of six hours – only to walk away empty-handed.
Which was exactly what happened to Jessica Gutierrez and Kristin Guerin, founders of Miami Community Fridge, a Buddy System Initiative. They decided then, that the need of their community was much greater than they thought. Something had to be done, so they began to hold their own weekly food distributions.
Buddy System began as a volunteer placement program in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In less than a year, it evolved into a fully established nonprofit organization focused on providing food security and advocacy resources for those in need throughout Miami.
Shortly after they began offering weekly food distributions, the founders quickly became aware of the deeper socio-economic issues that plagued the city, which had only intensified after the pandemic hit. Buddy System suddenly became a “COVID resources hub.”
Using their organizing power, they started to work with other established organizations and a group of approximately 100 volunteer case managers to provide social services for those in need.
Jessica recalls the early days of coming together as a sort of “divine intervention” during a critical time for Miami and the world.
“It was coming from a place of, ‘we really need to be there for our community and support our community in any way possible,’ and I never thought that it would get to where it is today,” she explains.
Today, Buddy System has over 950 volunteers that provide food distribution and advocacy services for upwards of 5,000 individuals throughout South Florida. This includes 10 community fridges located in public spaces that enable food to be shared amongst the community; anyone can put food in and take food out.
And with the recent unveiling of their 10th community fridge, at Mana Wynwood, the organization has no intention of slowing down.
In April, they plan to start a community garden, which will be followed by the opening of their first food pantry.
What started as a “band-aid” for their community in need, has evolved to an organization aimed at providing long-term solutions to hunger through education and art for social change.
“Another huge thing would be advocacy and education. And keeping that at the forefront,” Kristin explains. It’s not just the band-aid of picking up food at the food distribution, and it's not just the band-aid of community organizing. Each of these play a role together to create long-term systemic change.”
If you find yourself wondering how you can help, the answer is: donate whatever you can. Whether that be your time as a volunteer helping to clean and maintain one of the 10 community fridges throughout the city, or by sharing your creative talents to help build a website, paint a fridge or get the word out through social media. Every action, no matter the size, can help.
Green Haven Project | By Greg Clark
Unlike Buddy System, which was started just over a year ago, Green Haven Project has been serving its neighborhood for over three years. A community garden in Overtown, Green Haven Project is on a mission to educate and empower inner-city communities to grow their own food. Through urban gardening, educational workshops and food distributions, they are fighting to reduce inequalities and create sustainable communities.
Community activist and president of Green Haven Project, David Roper, manages the two acres of urban farmland, which he estimates that, by now, has fed thousands of inner-city residents.
His goal: to provide long-term solutions to hunger by teaching youth to become self-sufficient and emphasizing the value of growing their own food.
“It's very therapeutic getting your hands dirty, and being in the soil…It’s good for your immune system. It's good for the children, so we try to make it a family-oriented place,” David says.
Open pretty much every day of the week, the garden runs on the efforts of volunteers to provide free food for anyone in need within the community. And since its inception, David has seen his efforts extend far beyond that of his own community.
“As time progressed, more and more people would come to the garden and want to help in any way they could, or to collect fresh fruits and vegetables, not only for Overtown,” he explains. “A prime example: on Saturday, we gave 30 bags for 30 different families to take to Little Haiti.”
David goes on to discuss how this same system can be adopted almost anywhere, as long as you have the drive.
“We have folks that want us to implement the same thing we're doing in Overtown in other spaces within the city as well. So, we have another garden on the borderline of Overtown and Wynwood, which we'll be opening up with Dunbar Elementary School.”
“We want to show people that this can be done; you can change something that you may not agree with, or most people might not see a solution to. And as long as you have that drive, and you have that consistency, you can create change.”
In addition to the community of volunteers that show up each day, David recognizes the roles that other organizations throughout Miami play in the fight against food disparity and hunger. Working with other local groups, like Citizens For A Better South Florida, The Miami Give Back, and Dream Defenders are just a few.
“Whenever we collaborate with these organizations, it's to expand the resources that we all have. So, prime example: we have fresh fruits and vegetables, and The Miami Give Back, which is a group of barbers and beauticians that provide haircuts and hygiene services to people that are houseless, also provide food and clothes.”
”It’s kind of like bringing pieces of the puzzle together into our own picture and expanding it. We have containers where we hold things like clothing, canned goods, dry food, Pampers and diapers, hygiene packs, so if anyone needs anything, they can just come to us and be like, ‘hey, I need this.’ And we'll go in the container and give it to them.”
How can you help? As David puts it, simply show up.
“You don't have to necessarily join what we are doing or help us. You may see an issue within your community that no one's touching on. And if you feel strong about it, and you feel it's an issue, do something about it. Build your teams, get up off your booty and do something about it.”
While food insecurity continues to rise, millions of pounds of excess food continue to pile up in landfills around the world. Today, more than 40% of food is wasted in America, while 1 in 7 individuals go to bed hungry.
In Miami-Dade County alone, it is predicted that the food insecurity rate increased to 15.9% in the year 2020, from 11.8% in 2018. And that was before the pandemic brought the worldwide economy to a screeching halt, disrupting supply chains and depleting resources.
When Ellen Bowen learned of this, and heard many Miami-based chefs lamenting the abundance of wasted food, she decided she had to do something in her own community.
In 2018, Ellen launched the Miami chapter of Food Rescue US, a nationwide non-profit organization that makes excess food accessible to people facing food insecurity. A truly unique organization, Food Rescue US uses technology to connect donors, shelters and volunteers together.
In her own words, the Miami chapter was, “born out of the fact that there was so much waste and no logistical or organized way to connect the excess food to the actual people that needed it in the shelters, soup kitchens, the senior centers.”
Their technology changed all that.
By redistributing fresh, usable food that would have otherwise been wasted, Food Rescue US - Miami delivers hundreds of pounds of food from companies like Starbucks, Wholefoods, and other stores, hotels, restaurants to those in need.
Since 2011, Rescue Food US has provided over 52 million meals and delivered 69 million pounds of food.
“We really do a rescue every day,” Ellen explained during Florida Food Waste Prevention Week. “Every day there is someone going somewhere. We have over 100 different food donors, we are now up to 500 food rescuers, and we serve over 36 agency partners. In 2019–2020 alone, Food Rescue Miami rescued over 650,000 lbs of food and was hand-selected by the NFL to handle all food recovery at Super Bowl LIV.”
Everyone could be a food donor or food rescuer. Follow the instructions on their website and help reduce food waste.
Not only is food waste detrimental to our communities who are suffering from food disparity and hunger, it continues to harm our environment. According to UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report 2021, “The fact that substantial amounts of food are produced but not eaten by humans has substantial negative impacts: environmentally, socially and economically. Estimates suggest that 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed.”
For years, organizations throughout South Florida have worked tirelessly to provide food for their communities in need. With over 130 food distribution programs throughout Miami, many low-income residents rely on these programs to provide essentials they have little, or no access to.
Through food-rescue, food-growth and food-share programs, community agents of impact are working hard to bring circular economy solutions to the problem of food waste and insecurity. Hunger is not an issue of scarcity; it’s a matter of logistics, an efficient use of resources, and an exercise in empathy.
Green Haven Project, Buddy System, and Food Rescue US are just some of the dedicated organizations who are working hard to manage food waste and fight food insecurity within Miami and throughout South Florida. For more information, or to volunteer at any one of the other activist organizations, visit the links below: Compost For Life offers a compost pickup service to reduce environmental impact by diverting food waste from landfills, and recycle it into high quality soil to create a sustainable cycle. By composting you are eliminating the emissions of the methane gas, which is 21 times more potent than CO2. Bridge to Hope provides services and programs to low-income communities and those individuals in need during times of crisis. They aim to provide comprehensive wrap-around support to improve health and promote self-sufficiency within the community. Feeding South Florida is the largest food bank that serves Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe County. Through general food distribution programs, children’s and senior programs and disaster relief preparations, Feeding South Florida serves 25% of the state’s food insecure population. Health in the Hood provides access to fresh foods and education to low-income neighborhoods, through their Urban Farms and Filling Fridge Program throughout Miami.