Mott Haven’s Community Teaching Kitchen aim to produce 8,000 free meals per day in borough’s major food desert

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The South Bronx is one of the nation’s largest food deserts. A soon-to-be completed community kitchen, operated by East Side House Settlement, pledges 8,500 free meals a week to fill local food gaps.
Photo courtesy East Side Settlement

Food insecurity, a measure of the availability of food and individuals’ ability to access it, has been a prevalent issue in the South Bronx where more than 40% of its residents live in poverty and 1 in 4 residents are food insecure.

In one of the nation’s largest food deserts, once-reliable food banks in the South Bronx have been unable to counteract food scarcity thanks to rising inflation combined with surges in demand, declines in food donations due to supply chain challenges and fewer available volunteers.

The creation of a Community Teaching Kitchen at 805 E. 139th St. in Mott Haven, local advocates and project leaders tout, will produce more than 8,000 “free, healthy, no-questions-asked” meals a day for food-insecure community residents.

Natalie Lozada, associate executive director of Programs for longtime nonprofit and community teaching kitchen operator East Side House Settlement, told the Bronx Times she expects the kitchen to completed by the end of the year.

Additionally, Lozada said support from RXR, who donated $100,000 toward its completion, and $600,000 in federal funds, thanks to efforts by U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, was a necessary investment to make the kitchen a reality.

“The idea for the Community Kitchen was born out of East Side House’s long-running emergency relief services. Our organization has witnessed firsthand the need for prepared meals for older adults and for those who are not able to cook — a need which was exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Lozada. “Although the pandemic has ‘subsided,’ access issues have always plagued this community and families continue to struggle with food insecurity due to rising inflation.”

An aerial view of 805 E. 139th St., where the Mott Haven Community Teaching Kitchen will launch, upon completion in late 2022. Photo courtesy Google Images

In addition to providing on-site training opportunities for an estimated 50 students per year, Lozada expressed a grand vision of workforce development where the kitchen would create a pipeline for Bronx youth to enter NYC’s food industry.

“In the immediate future, our priority is to provide straightforward kitchen training so that young people can work in existing kitchens around the Bronx and New York City,” Lozada said. “As New York’s food industry grows in the post-pandemic era, we want to ensure that the next generation of workers is ready to fill those jobs and sustain that growth.”

Statewide in New York, during the pandemic, the number of people who “didn’t have enough to eat” soared to 6.1 million in April 2021, but dropped to about 2.7 million by September 2021, according to U.S. Census Household Pulse data.

A scarcity in fresh food suppliers and markets, and the onset of food deserts, lead residents in the Bronx, Harlem and Bed-Stuy to rely on bodegas.

According to NYC’s 2021 Food Metrics Report, the projected number of food insecure New Yorkers in 2021 is approximately 1.4 million individuals, with more than 230,000 of its predominantly Black and Hispanic residents without access to nutritious, affordable food.

About a third of the population receives aid from SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps), which is not accepted everywhere.

In Harlem, nonprofit Harlem Grown implemented a makeshift community kitchen in the basketball court at Thurgood Marshall Academy earlier this year to counteract its own food scarcity issues. For RXR Realty, the hope is that Mott Haven’s Community Teaching Kitchen not only changes the food demographics of the South Bronx, but is a model for tackling citywide food insecurity.

“When we think about the challenges the South Bronx faces, we look at how investment in the services they need and deserve can help change outcomes when it comes to food insecurity,” said Joseph Graziose, senior vice president at RXR Realty. “Throughout the pandemic and since breaking ground on new development, we’ve worked in tandem with East Side House Settlement to support South Bronx residents with impactful community-first initiatives, including a food drive in April 2020 that served thousands of local residents at a critical moment. We are excited to see how this community kitchen will improve lives in the South Bronx.”

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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