Florida Weekly Column

Grassroots Support for Local Food Deserts

Grassroots Support for Local Food Deserts

by Fred Richards
Vice President of Community Support Services
Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida

2015 head shot CR

It is going to be a hot and hungry summer for many of our neighbors. Combining hunger with a lack of inaccessible job training opportunities leaves our community members feeling hopeless and uncertain about their future.

How can we work together to creatively address hunger in low income neighborhoods that have been identified by the USDA as food deserts? Goodwill’s Dorothy Browning, community education program manager, and others have been addressing that question. They have been pouring over statistics and solutions since April and are unveiling the “Food Security through Community Action” program funded by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

This summer, the Goodwill Industries team will expand upon their work at the Pine Manor, Page Park, Suncoast Estates, and Charleston Park neighborhoods to fight hunger and find solutions to feed families in these food deserts or areas without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Fortunately, through the collaborative partnership with the Harry Chapin Food Bank our families can access food at one of our four neighborhood food pantries.

We are planning to take food security to the next level by expanding upon the community garden and culinary training program which was initiated in Pine Manor over a year ago. We want to permanently change lives within the community by creating job opportunities through culinary certification training, offering microenterprise opportunities, and through the collective community collaboration that can be achieved from multiple families working together to grow food in community gardens.

Ashley, a single mother, lost her job and arrived at the Pine Manor center last year to utilize Job-Link services to search for a job. Having feelings of uncertainty and how she would support her family she noticed a flyer on the wall for a culinary training program and without hesitation signed up for the class. The culinary instructor was so impressed with her abilities that she was offered a position in his catering businesses. Recently, she accepted a position with the runner up on Season 6 of the MasterChef show and who is opening a restaurant in Downtown Fort Myers. Ashley now has a career for which she has a talent, passion and dedication which all began with an opportunity in the form of a flyer about a culinary class.

Other successes relate to Pine Manor’s community garden in which there are 20 families growing food. It has changed the way they feed their family and in how the community feels about the place they call home. There have been reports that crime is down and that families have a sense of connectivity to their community and community pride. Some of the food is being sold at local farmer markets.

Our expanding project is taking a “grass roots” approach by working with neighborhood leaders to find solutions to hunger and self-sufficiency. The goal is to create sustainable solutions to end hunger, instill hope, provide opportunities and to ultimately create a multigenerational change in the way we eat, work and live in these struggling neighborhoods.

This summer, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the 2016 competitive grant cycle. We have asked our 2016 grantees to send us their stories. The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change-makers.

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.

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