Every Friday morning before sunrise, Flora McKenzie leaves her home in West Kendall to help distribute groceries to people in need in west Coconut Grove, where she grew up.
McKenzie, 66, has been running the Coconut Grove Food Pantry for two years. The program is approved by the USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program, and many of the supplies distributed are purchased at the USDA food bank in Broward, where supplies can be purchased for almost nothing. Meat can sometimes be as cheap as $0.06.
“I believe this program is really needed in the Grove,” she said.
The food is handed out at Christ Episcopal Church, founded in 1901 by Bahamian settlers and one of the oldest churches in Miami. Most of the volunteers belong to the church and do what they can to help with the program. One volunteer drives a truck to buy the supplies, and they are packed every Thursday evening by another team of volunteers. The perishables are not brought out until Friday morning.
Those in need can pick up food once every three weeks. However, McKenzie will grant one extra week if someone tells her they have an emergency.
When McKenzie, a retired teacher, took over the program, she had to reorganize to run the program as smoothly as possible.
“I had to think through a kind of way I could deal with it,” she said.
Now, all documents are color-coordinated, and all names are cross-referenced on multiple sheets at check-in Friday mornings, which begins at 9 a.m. Food is not distributed until 10 a.m., and people are called in alphabetically and the order in which they arrived.
“It’s the teacher in me,” she said.
Coconut Grove resident Ronnie Rumo, 61, said McKenzie’s structure and dedication have been invaluable to the community.
“If it weren’t for her with the organization that she has, we’d be in trouble,” Rumo said. “She keeps things in line.”
Rumo, a Vietnam veteran, has arthritis throughout his body and receives benefits every month. The extra food lets him help his children and grandchildren.
Many use the food to offset end-of-the-month struggles, when food stamps have run out. Among the food handed out on a recent Friday was a pound of raw chicken, fresh collard greens, Pringles chips, coconut water, dried pasta, canned corn, and Pop-Tarts.
There is also an extras table, with nonessentials for anyone who might like them. Spices and cake frosting were among the items up for grabs.
Shantaé Peters, 30, has four children, and is grateful for the food services.
“I don't know anywhere else in Miami where you can come get food where you can make a meal, and then on Mondays get a hot meal,” said Peters, who moved to the Grove from Liberty City four years ago. She said she has been impressed with the community activism there.
The food bank is important not just for those who need regular help but also to ease the burden of people struggling with job-loss and other hardships.
“I think that people know that we’re a place they can come,” McKenzie said. “We help them get back on their feet.”
Though many people who visit the food bank still struggle, Rumo said that McKenzie and the rest of the volunteers being there every Friday, ready to help, is enough.
“You couldn't ask for any more. They’re here,” Rumo said. “We need this, without a doubt.”