Addendum: L+M Development presented The Point with an award in recognition for their excellent food education and food justice work in May 2018.
Food choice in the Hunts Point community has long been a debatable topic.
In this food desert, many residents often settle on fast food restaurants for sustenance, which adds to the growing health epidemic the south Bronx faces.
The Point’s ‘Blank Plate’ program has sought to change that type of thinking and on Tuesday, June 5, the program capped off its seventh year of educating and feeding the community.
The program, which runs 20 weeks, accepts participants of all ages is based on the idea of educating the community about fresh food and how to prepare them to help lead healthier lifestyles.
“This program is the reason I went to culinary school,” said 22-year-old Dawn Ortiz, who was one of the first participants of the program in 2011 and now one of the resident chefs.
“Here, I learned cooking is actually an art form,” she continued.
Not all the learning is made easy, however.
Danny Peralta, the executive managing director of The Point said students take the food and knowledge they acquire home to share with family members.
Since the area does not have an abundance of fresh produce, it can be difficult to teach families how to prepare foods they have never seen.
“We had a problem introducing rainbow chard,” said Peralta who explained much of the neighborhood is filled with families who immigrated from Caribbean countries. “But our chefs were able to show students how to prepare it with flavors familiar to their cultures.”
Each week, the program participants put together a meal they learned to prepare, which they serve to the community.
They learn these skills through head chef Kelston Bascom and his company, Bascom Catering.
Their last meal at the end of their program is the largest to prepare, but certainly leaves them no stranger to the kitchen or blank plates.
“Seeing all the people eating the food we made is such a satisfying feeling,” said 17-year-old Leonardo Polanco, who has also been participating in the program since its inception.
Though the last meal saw many familiar faces, as The Point has had a food outreach program which predates the ‘Blank Plate’ program, everyone at the event was excited knowing it had been prepared by children, teens and young adults.
“The food is amazing. It’s actually shocking how good it is,” said community member, TreZure Empire.
“I’m surprised because people my age around here, don’t usually do productive things like this for the community,” said 19-year-old resident, Juan Ilarraza.
Though the ‘Blank Plate’ program grew from a program that started with funding and initiative by Parsons The New School of Design, the last two years The Point and its ‘Blank Plate’ program has received $85,000 in grants from L+M Development as part of the company’s community investment.
“I think it’s very easy for developers to come into communities like this and extract,” said Samantha Franklin the L+M director of Community Investment.
“But I think L+M is a company that really takes giving back to communities seriously,” Franklin continued, explaining L+M was also partnering with the youth of the program to help them develop products to sell to the community like hand-crafted fruit preserves.