Free Farmers Markets throughout the Summer
Support from United Way, Amazon, the Office of NY State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, and a special donation from Spring Scaffolding are helping the food relief program continue and expand its mission
(L-R) Bharati Kemraj, Community Organizer / The Bharati Foundation; Shana McCormick, RAP4Bronx Executive Director; Oscar Vera.
“The stars aligned,” said Shana McCormick, program director of RAP4Bronx, referring to the timeliness of a recent generous funding from United Way to the food relief program launched by The Skyline Charitable Foundation at the onset of the pandemic in April 2020. The grant virtually coincided with the close of various Federal and State emergency funding sources at the end of May 2021, including City Harvest and the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program. The support not only enabled RAP4Bronx to continue its mission, it allowed the organization to open its first ever Free Farmers Market.
United Way was aware of the positive impact RAP4Bronx was having and that, as McCormick said, “we were serving a substantial population.” Moreover, because the United Way grant was specifically for New York State sourced produce, it both helped RAP4Bronx serve communities still suffering from food insecurity and aided in supporting farmers throughout the Empire State.
Combined with RAP4Bronx’s careful strategic planning, the grant ensured that the charity “didn’t miss a beat,” said McCormick.
Red Mambas Youth Football Team and Oscar Vera (center) founder, Feed The Streets, who volunteered at the Free Farmers Market.
RAP4Bronx’s first Free Farmers Market opened early on June 25 at Bronx River House, a building situated along the Bronx River that houses the Bronx River Alliance in Starlight Park. McCormick knew of the site through her participation in the Bronx River Foodway team meetings, connecting the river area with people, growing food and medicinal plants. The Bronx River Alliance also holds Community Paddles and kayak trips along the Bronx River Greenway which was restored by the Alliance. Furthermore, Starlight Park, described by the Parks & Recreation department’s website as a “reclaimed, reconstructed and expanded park,” is a popular family destination equipped with recreational facilities and kayak and canoe launches.
With colorful online ads and flyers proclaiming, “Free produce until it’s all gone,” RAP4Bronx also hosted Free Farmers Markets on July 23, August 6, and August 20, coordinated with afternoon Community Paddles run by the Alliance. McCormick extends special thanks to the ongoing collaboration of the Alliance including Foodway Coordinator Nathan Hunter who made cool mint iced tea for the community and the RAP4Bronx crew.
All Free Farmers Markets offer healthy fare in areas where fresh produce isn’t easily accessible. Products come from Grow NYC, New York State farms and growers, and include seasonal fruit and farm fresh eggs. Because some items may not be familiar to all, RAP4Bronx always has stacks of flyers on hand with inventive recipes such as Double Chocolate Beet Brownies and Green Chimichurri Sauce made with parsley or cilantro and shallots. As a bonus, RAP4Bronx has been approved to distribute Health Bucks vouchers that can be used at for profit farmers markets. “It’s an extra incentive to encourage people to use fresh produce,” said McCormick.
RAP4Bronx’s Free Farmer’s Market at Starlight Park. (L-R) Bharati Kemraj, Community Organizer / The Bharati Foundation; William Rivera, District Manager of Bronx Community Board 9; PO Luis Mendez, 43rd Precinct Community Affairs Officer; Shana McCormick, RAP4Bronx Executive Director.
The Free Farmers Markets are helping other nonprofits and community-based organizations that work with RAP4Bronx as well. Bruce Rivera, founder, Mission Helping Hand, receives an allotment from the charity to feed 300 families a week for its auxiliary pantry.
Rivera said, “Consistency and longevity are key – our community trusts us and depends on us. That’s what’s been so great about our partnership with RAP4Bronx and working with Shana. Thanks to RAP4Bronx we don’t have any gaps in our program.”
He noted too the quality and variety of the produce saying, “We get kale, fresh beets with the vines still attached, peppers, red and yellow onions, even the greens used to make callaloo, a popular Caribbean dish. We appreciate RAP4Bronx and they appreciate our outreach.”
Clearly, the constellations conspired to benefit RAP4Bronx several times in recent months.
Funding also arrived from Amazon and the Office of State Senator Alessandra Biaggi who had witnessed the work of RAP4Bronx firsthand. “It’s a means of building relationships within the community. We’re so grateful,” said McCormick pointing out that the support helped defray a portion of the operating expenses.
A particularly special donation was announced at the Skyline Restoration Golf Tournament on July 12. Spring Scaffolding celebrated its 30th anniversary and the one-year anniversary of RAP4Bronx with a generous $30,000 donation (see story here).
“It was especially meaningful for me as I was hired by Will Laffey, president of Spring Scaffolding, in 2017 and was part of the team. Will had faith in my ability and encouraged me to take the position at RAP4Bronx,” said McCormick. “It was a beautiful moment when he presented me with the check.”