Meet our inspiring mobile market operator who helps feed the community in New York City!
Tamara Dawson grew up in the West Indies. Surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, her mother’s side of the family were fishermen.
Oftentimes, people would come into the family-owned local fish store but didn’t have enough money to purchase their fish. Tamara’s grandparents would make sure they didn’t leave without food on their hands.
“My mother inherited that same desire to help those in need, and I’ve followed in those same footsteps,” she said.
Tamara is now the Director of Programs for The Campaign Against Hunger (TCAH) in New York. For seventeen years, Tamara has helped the NGO in its mission of fighting food insecurity through the creation of hunger-relief and access to healthy food programs.
What started in 1998 as a small pantry operating out of a church basement in Bedford-Stuyvesant, founded by Dr. Melony Samuels, TCAH has grown into supermarket-style food pantries across the city and expanded to include nutrition classes and workshops, an online marketplace, two urban farms, and a mobile pantry. It also offers social services such as health insurance enrollment and tax filing preparation assistance.
Through its mobile pantry initiative, Fresh Vibes Market, its impact reaches thousands in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx each month, as it allows TCAH to offer a wide variety of services in a single stop. For their second mobile market truck, they chose us. We are honored to team up with them in their mission.
On The Frontlines Of The Crisis
In a regular year, TCAH serves three million meals to New Yorkers. In the last weeks, amid the COVID-19 crisis, they’ve served nearly 250,000 meals. At this pace, they will serve over ten million meals in 2020.
“Supermarkets are running out of items. Or people just can’t afford them. They’re turning to us. So we’re seeing a lot of new clients,” Tamara said.
In this short time-span, TCAH has seen their online orders double, having up to 500 people placing online orders on any given day.
Partnering with government housing complexes and senior living facilities, they deliver an average of 250 and 300 pre-packaged bags of produce per day, respectively.
Adding the 600 bags distributed to children, TCAH is sending a thousand bags of healthy produce a day, on top of serving the regular and additional customers visiting the food pantries.
The difference between now and before COVID-19?
“We are doing what we were doing prior to COVID-19, we are just doing it on a larger scale. Making sure people are safe. Just like with any other crisis,” Tamara said.
No Stranger To Crisis Relief
Before COVID-19, TCAH was on the front lines of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Between the maze of downed power lines and piles of debris, they offered hot meals and distributed grocery bags. In the first three weeks, TCAH helped feed 651 families.
“A lot of people think about the medical teams, firefighters, and police officers, and they’re doing a good job, but we are helping individuals in the background,” Tamara said.
But like it happened after Hurricane Sandy, Tamara fears that after COVID-19 passes, the support and compassion towards those experiencing hunger will fade. “But the need is still going to be here.”
Height In The Need
Even before COVID-19, individuals were struggling to keep afloat. Due to gentrification, the cost of rent and living in NYC keeps increasing.
“You begin to see that a three-bedroom apartment has three different families living in it because they’re just trying to make ends meet.”
Many sacrifice food as a result. In 2016, 2.4 million people, or 11.9 percent, in the state experienced food insecurity.
The bottom line: the only difference between now and a normal day is that “More people are having need, and people who were already in need, have a greater need. There’s a height in the need.”
Thinking of her family’s local fish shop and the philosophy that was embedded in her from a young age, she said:
“It means a lot to me that whatever I do, whether big or small, it helps someone in relieving their stress. Be it from financial difficulties, food insecurity, COVID-19 or Hurricane Sandy, that I’m able to help someone make it through. Let them know there is hope and that there’s someone that cares.”