Edison - Liberty City

Fresh start: Co-ops offering Liberty City residents healthy, affordable produce

FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Dorene Walters, who lives in Liberty City’s Annie Coleman housing complex, paid only $2 for a box brimming with fresh pineapple, nectarines, onions, broccoli, and 10 other fresh fruits and vegetables.

In an area where fresh produce is hard to get, the delivery was sweet for her family.

For more than a year, Walters, her two kids and grandson, have been using the Fresh Food Co-Op, a philanthropic program that provides more than 100 families and 325 children with $60-$70 of healthy produce twice a month in two locations. The co-op was ignited last March by Key Biscayne resident Pat Molinari, joined by volunteers from the Miami Children’s Initiative and also the Key Biscayne Community Foundation. MCI is a nonprofit organization focused on a “cradle to career” strategy to work with Liberty City’s youth from the day they are born until they are 24 years old.

The Village of Key Biscayne, which is Liberty City’s “sister city,” often teams up with MCI to improve the lives of impoverished residents.

Molinari has been the pulse of the project. She brings to the table experience with co-ops, catering and a drive to help others. Recently, she was able to raise $30,000 to ensure operation of the co-ops for another two years. Each co-op costs nearly $900.

“Pat showed up with food here one day without realizing that this was going to just explode,” said Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press, who started his own charitable fund years ago to purchase toys for Liberty City kids and turkeys for the elderly at Christmas. “Folks in the neighborhood not only bought onto it but they were thriving with it. And kids were eating fruits and vegetables for the first times in their lives.

“Healthy kids and healthy minds are opportunities for change.”

Besides corner markets, Winn-Dixie is the closest grocery store to the Annie Coleman housing, and it’s more than a mile away. Molinari described the neighborhood essentially as being a “food desert” for the many residents who don’t have transportation.

Octavia Singletary, who has lived in the area her entire life, agrees that healthy food is hard to come by. She admits that she eats “oily and fried foods” too often.

“When you’re on a budget or low income, you’re not going to buy much healthy food,” Singletary said. “You’re gonna buy what your money can get you.”

Singletary showed up at the co-op to receive fresh food for the first time, imploring the coordinators to add more locations closer to her block of housing.

“I see the positive output that they’re bringing into this neighborhood so I would like for that also to be in my neighborhood,” she said.

Typically during the co-ops, volunteers host cooking demonstrations to educate residents on how to prepare unfamiliar foods. For Friday’s demonstration, 60 summer camp kids from MCI’s Summer Learning Clinic, a free nine-week program hosted at the neighboring Charles R. Drew Elementary School, listened attentively to the pros of healthy eating. The 3-5-year-olds, clad in construction paper crowns, learned that spinach is good for your blood and that calcium-enriched kale is good for the bones.

In addition to the food co-ops, MCI also has a community bike-sharing program and a few vegetable gardens in the neighborhood.

“The work that we do is trying to end generational poverty everyday,” said Cecilia Gutierrez, the CEO of MCI. “So a part of that is education about better health and eating habits for our kids and addressing obesity rates for children.”

To know more

Fresh Food Co-Op

Where:1907 NW 60th St. Miami, FL 33142

When: Every last Friday of the month from noon-2 p.m.

Who: Residents of the Annie Coleman Housing Projects

Liberty City Food Co-Op

Where: 2000 NW 62nd St., Miami, FL 33142

When: every second Friday of the month from noon- 2p.m.

Who: Residents of the Annie Coleman Housing Projects

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