A Partnership of Volunteers, Activists, and Brands comes together to serve free meals in an underserved part of Florida hit hard by Hurricane Irma
Less than a week after Hurricane Irma devastated southern Florida, Grassroots Alliance, a national non-profit organization committed to supporting communities in crisis, launched into action. Grassroots Alliance, a collective effort of activists, decided to bring their disaster relief efforts to Immokalee, Florida, with the goal of providing food, water, and other basic services to a disadvantaged and underserved area of the state that is home to a large number of migrant farm workers. With a mobile kitchen, they arrived to Immokalee on September 21st.
Grassroots Alliance has partnered with leading natural food brands and other companies to provide food donations, as well as financial and material support to run their relief efforts. The project has been made possible by the coming together of activists, businesses, and local community groups who have laid the groundwork for the outpouring of support to have a direct impact on the ground. Companies supporting the relief effort include Amy’s Kitchen, Clif Bar, Dr. Bronner’s, Organic Valley, Patagonia, Pacific Domes, Stonyfield, and other brands.
“Dr. Bronner’s is proud to support this important effort by the Grassroots Alliance,” says David Bronner. “We have upgraded a 48’ kitchen trailer, procured equipment, and are financing key staff on the ground to set up and manage the operation while coordinating with local community organizers and volunteers. In times of crisis, it’s awesome to see our partners in this effort step up and put progressive values into action. And they are also donating to relief efforts in Houston, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, as is Dr. Bronner’s. This effort truly embodies the “All-One” spirit and message of my granddad’s vision.”
Grassroots Alliance has been working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a farmworker community and human rights organization, to spread word about the kitchen and the services that it offers, as well as to drive meals out to those who cannot make it to the kitchen’s location. “The Immokalee community is glad to have the Grassroots Alliance Cafe and volunteers come to support our hardworking community of farmworkers in the wake of Hurricane Irma,” says Santiago Perez, member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. “The outpouring of solidarity that we have felt here in the past couple of weeks shows that Immokalee and the farmworkers who harvest this country’s crops are not alone and not forgotten. The delicious food and direct assistance is greatly appreciated and we look forward to building deep and lasting ties between our communities.”
The Immokalee region of Florida is known for tomatoes, producing a third of tomatoes consumed in the US. Thousands of farmworkers (estimated at approximately 30,000) are needed to plant, tend, and harvest these tomatoes each season. The work is hard, the weather hot, and the pay is low, averaging less than $10/hour. Housing options are historically crowded, dirty and expensive. Cases of slavery and sexual harassment of women in the fields have been all to common in the past two decades. Some of this has changed in recent years as farmworkers organized under the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a member-driven organization of primarily Latino, Mayan Indian, and Haitian immigrant farmworkers. Through organizing and putting pressure on corporations that purchase the produce they pick, the coalition has helped to reduce and resolve some of the worst abuses in the fields. Partnering with the Coalition has been crucial to making sure that the food from the Grassroots Alliance kitchen is reaching the neediest people.
Several natural product industry leaders have also stepped up to join Dr. Bronner’s in supporting this relief effort, including family-owned Amy’s Kitchen, which has donated 150,000 cans of soup. Organic Valley is closely involved, with key staff helping to coordinate efforts on the ground, in addition to donating substantial quantities of food to the effort. Patagonia has donated over 10,000 servings of their Patagonia Provisions line of dehydrated organic soups and cereals, while Clif Bar has contributed 10,000 bars to supply the kitchen. Other brands and organizations continue to sign on in support of this effort as well.
“Grassroots Alliance’s vision in working with partners like Burners Without Borders and Dr. Bronner’s is to leverage assets and volunteers in the Burning Man community and natural products industry, to deploy a quick and turnkey response in the form of a disaster relief kitchen, not just for this but for future disasters and moments of crisis,” says Matt Atwood, co-founder of the Grassroots Alliance.
Grassroots Alliance was co-founded by Matt Atwood, Justin Baker, and others. Baker is also the founder of Conscious Alliance. Since its formation in 2002, Conscious Alliance has provided more than two million meals to impoverished communities across the US. In 2005, Conscious Alliance teamed up with New Waveland Cafe to distribute thousands of meals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was this experience that laid the groundwork for Grassroots Alliance’s involvement in disaster relief. Grassroots Alliance aims to not only feed the needy in the local community on a day-to-day basis but to have a fully mobile disaster relief unit that will be able to provide meals for those in communities that have been struck by catastrophe.