This past year saw WITS programming go beyond the classroom and schoolyard. WITS Chefs could now be seen on television at BronxNet and on our Instagram @wellnessintheschools, cooking for wider audiences than ever before. But as we all know, you can’t feed people through a screen. A big part of our relationship with food is sensory. Being able to touch, smell, and taste our food is really what cooking is all about. Few places tell the story of food from farm to plate and allow for a sensory experience quite like a farmers market. With help from the New Settlement Community Center in the Bronx and many more partners, Wellness in the Schools has been able to bring the bounty to the Bronx. This is the story of how during this covid year we have been able to transcend screens and bring fresh produce and other ingredients to a community in need in person.
The story begins seven years ago when Wellness in the Schools began working with a handful of Community School District 9 schools (Mt. Eden Children’s Academy, M.S. 327, and P10X). Our Cook for Kids programming garnered the attention of the New Settlement Community Center, which was also closely involved in the area’s schools, offering after-school programs. Over time we began to collaborate with the New Settlement Community Center and supported their Community Food Action program. In fact, we shared our vision for a kitchen design when New Settlement was drawing plans for their new school.
Fast forward to March of 2020. The world comes to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and many find themselves in need of food and other necessities due to the cessation of work. “We had to do something. These are our communities and they are in need. We couldn’t do our usual work in the schools, but I just knew we had to figure out another way to be there for our people,” said Marion Williams, National Program Director of Wellness in the Schools.
During the pandemic, community centers like New Settlement did what they could to provide for their communities like they usually do, but the demand was now too difficult to accommodate. Marion began working with Carmen Hernandez-Rugama, the Program Director of the Creative Leaders Afterschool Program (CLASP) at New Settlement, to try to find a way that Wellness in the Schools could leverage its relationships with our existing chef partners to help bring food to the New Settlement community.
Wellness in the Schools began providing pantry items to New Settlement Community Center and worked with chef partner GrowNYC to help get fresh produce. With this, the New Settlement Community Center Farmstand was officially open.
Program Operations Manager Gisselle Madariaga says, “Not only does the New Settlement Farmstand provide pantry staples like pasta and canned vegetables, but we are also able to provide fresh produce, and best of all, we offer live cooking demonstrations and an ‘Ask A Chef’ booth where people can learn recipes and cooking tips that utilize the same ingredients that they are taking home with them.”
Now, the New Settlement Farmstand distributes 200 grocery bags of food items every time they are open, carefully weighed out and proportioned to ensure everybody who comes is getting their fair share. Our partners Feed the Frontlines have even been able to provide hot meals to families at the New Settlement Community Center.
At Wellness in the Schools, we regularly talk about the power of partnerships, and this is the perfect example of that. What started as just a question – how can we help? – soon blossomed into the creation of a welcoming space at the New Settlement Community Center that provided food to members of the community for free, along with cooking instruction to make the most of the ingredients. And none of it would have been possible without the help of our friends at New Settlement Community Center, GrowNYC, Capatriti Olive Oil, Bob’s Red Mill, and Feed the Frontlines. Thank you to everyone who has helped to make the New Settlement Farmstand a reality: bringing the bounty to the Bronx.