December: Food Insecurity
This December, we are highlighting Young Professionals working to make sure all New Yorkers have consistent access to enough food to live an active, healthy life. Congratulations to our December Spotlights of the Month, Jerome Nathaniel and Jazmin Johnson!
I am where I am because of my community of mentors. My parents and neighbor, who was a longtime DOE administrative employee, instilled in me that community always comes first. I started getting involved in my neighborhood’s shelters in East New York as a member of the Brooklyn Youth Club in middle school. I remained active in anti-poverty spaces through my high school, Leadership and Public Service, in which we volunteered at the Bowery, and then in college as a Gandhi Service Fellow in Rochester. After graduating, I spent most of my time volunteering at the Holy Apostle Soup Kitchen and organizing/researching the issue of systemic racism in the criminal injustice system with the American Friends Service Committee. After a year as a Hunger Free America/FoodlinkAmericorp VISTA, I continued working on anti-hunger policies and programs through my years as an employee at Foodlink and then City Harvest.
Being employed to work on issues that are so important for my community and my family’s history. And more importantly, being able to witness and collaborate with so many strong leaders and friends on this work. Everyone who is committed to this honestly deserves a spotlight as much as the next person, so it almost feels strange not to have spotlight on half my co-workers or people in other community groups that I interact with beyond work.
Start off by asking yourself what issues are most important to you, and then figure out how and where you can make a difference in those spaces. You don’t have to work at a nonprofit to fight hunger or go through Americorp to appreciate community organizing. There might be a community group that shows up to your community board that catches your eye, or there might be a virtual facebook event for a local CBO that is working on that issue. I’d also encourage you to volunteer at a pantry or mutual aid group and get to know the folks that run the programs or participate first. Based off those experiences and conversations, you should be equipped to decide if a nonprofit career is for you.
Considering that my grandparents, parents, and then myself all grew up in the same apartment in East New York Brooklyn since the 60s, I noticed I was purely a New Yorker when I left NYC for college and Americorp. As much as we complain about the MTA, I tried living without it to no avail. Nothing felt better than sprinting for the B6 to get to New Lots at 5 AM than when I came back home to work for City Harvest.
I spent about a decade in the creative agency space before transitioning careers into the culinary industry. While attending the Institute of Culinary Education, I learned about Wellness in the Schools, an organization committed to eliminating childhood obesity through programming in public schools across the country. I knew that I wanted to share my culinary knowledge with young cooks. I taught students to eat the rainbow at PS 463x by day and worked at Michelin starred Bouley at Home at night. When the pandemic hit, like most people, I wanted to do something to help my neighbors, fellow New Yorkers. I taught a class to raise funds to restock a free community fridge in West Harlem with produce from a local farmers market to support our farmers and that beautiful moment in mutual aid led to co-founding a free community fridge in East Harlem a month later. I have since pivoted my efforts to strategically supporting the 19 community fridges in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx to get us through the winter.
I am most proud of co-founding a free community fridge in East Harlem. The fridge provides fresh produce and prepared meals to residents 24/7. With the help of local volunteers, it’s become a major resource for the community.
Whether you’d like to pursue work as a chef or as a community organizer, I highly suggest you listen to your community, remain proactive, and invest in a pair of comfortable shoes because you’re going to spend a lot of time on your feet doing this work. I’m about to turn 30 and I realize now more than ever that proper protective footwear makes the world of a difference!
I am first and foremost a New Yorker, a Neoyorquina. I was born and raised here, so this is the only home I’ve ever known and the reason I remain so passionate about empowering other New Yorkers through food access, education, and security.