Brownsville Community Culinary Center cooks up healthy meals for those in need

BROWNSVILLE, Brooklyn -- A non-profit based in Brownsville, Brooklyn has been feeding first responders and those most vulnerable in their community since March 15. Collective Fare, located at the Brownsville Community Culinary Center (BCCC), was launched in August 2019 as a full-service catering company.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, Collective Fare immediately lost their corporate clients and lost about $150,000 in sales. That's when Executive Chef Olufemi Rodney Frazer and Director of Operations LaToya Meaders knew they needed to come up with a new plan.

"What do you do for a community that was already in crisis?" asked Meaders. "Neighborhoods like Brownsville were already food deserts. And when COVID-19 hit, it exacerbated the situation that's already happening here."

Meaders and Frazer jumped into action and came up with a plan to get food to the community.

"We started processing that food and preparing these healthy, delicious meals," said Meaders. "We started providing sustenance and resources to the people in the community... and it just scaled."

Collective Fare started with preparing 200 meals a day and quickly scaled to 2,000 meals a day. Now affiliated with World Central Kitchen, Collective Fare quickly hired many alumni - who had been laid off from restaurant industry jobs - to cook fully prepared meals for those in need.

"It was tough in the beginning because it was fewer people and so much," said alumni Edgar Phillips, now Kitchen Manager. "Until we got the system going - we got a rhythm - and now it is what you see right now."

Collective Fare is receiving donations of food that they prepare and donate - free-of-charge - to homebound seniors, elder care facilities, dialysis centers, and family shelters. Meaders and Frazer came up with a comprehensive menu of healthy meals and diets because they realized the community they were in would not have the resources or time to prepare meals with just hand-outs of vegetables and meats.

"If they don't know how to prepare these fresh fruits and vegetables, then the nutritious value in those fruits and vegetables - they go to waste," said Meaders.

Chef Frazer developed the recipes himself using input from alumni and the communities they live in.

"So what do you like? What is healthy for your family?" asked Chef Frazer to his alumni. "And we incorporate that into our day-to-day."

"The pandemic magnified some of the challenges that this neighborhood already had," said Lucas Denton, founder of the BCCC. "And it's just been incredibly beautiful to see all of the partners in the neighborhood step up and really address this crisis."

Another community liaison Men Elevating Leadership (MEL) assists with food deliveries and community engagement to encourage social distancing between pantry clients.

"If there's no vision, there's no hope," said Daniel Goodine, Community Partner and co-founder of MEL. "And the vision that we had to provide services to people, made all the difference in the world."

For those who can afford it, there are several low-cost meal plans that feed individuals and families of up to 4 members for a day up to a week. For those who are especially fortunate, by visiting Collective Fare's website, to donate the prepared meals to families in need.

"Being able to provide food for people, it fills me with a sense of hope - that we're going to be able to get past anything, if we all just band together," said Meaders. "Especially as New Yorkers - we always find a way."

Collective Fare has now fed over 100 thousand people since the pandemic began and continue to serve a community that was already dealing with food insecurity and diet-related illness of epidemic proportions.