Tropical fruits invade Brooklyn’s meals banks
Thanks to donations from Queens-based food importer Redi-Fresh Produce Inc. (RFP), more than 100,000 pounds of pineapples and bananas have found their way to those in need in New York and New Jersey.
RFP is an importer of products that receives containers at the Red Hook Container Terminal (RHCT). RHCT President Mike Stamatis and RFP President Peter Malo felt they could be helpful after New York State went on BREAK in March.
“Based on what we saw and heard on the news and what was wrong with the COVID-19 virus, Peter said, ‘Why don’t we donate the pineapples that just came in?'” Stamatis told us. “At first it was supposed to be just a shipping container of pineapples – that’s about 10,000 pineapples – and we weren’t sure where we would donate so many pineapples.”
A team effort
The duo reached out to several local elected officials and community organization leaders for recommendations on possible distribution locations in South Brooklyn. Before Easter and Passover, they donated more than 2,040 pineapples from Costa Rica to the Center for Family Life Food Pantry (960 pineapples), Community Help in Park Slope Inc. (480 all distributed in one afternoon), the Red Hook Art Project (300), the Red Hook Initiative (300), and the NYPD’s 76th Ward. The tropical fruits were inventoried, sorted, and unpacked by workers from the International Longshoremen’s Association and later delivered to the sites by volunteers from MTC Transportation, an RHCT trucking partner.
The more the better
This first donation worked so well that Malo donated the next incoming shipment to City Harvest.
The group received 21 pallets of pineapples weighing a total of 48,720 pounds, which were given away to five pantries, soup kitchens and community food programs in Gowanus and Sunset Park during the week of April 13th. Saul Puche, City Harvest’s grocery procurement coordinator, noted the physical immensity of the delivery and how shocked he was to see it.
“The pineapples were actually still in the shipping container from Costa Rica, which City Harvest never gets. That was the first time I’ve seen it, ”he said. “The pallets were so tall that warehouse workers had to dismantle them just to get them in the door – they were that big.”
On April 24, City Harvest’s Long Island City warehouse received nearly 44,000 pounds of bananas from Ecuador. The usual transit time from Ecuador to Brooklyn is around 10 days, according to Stamatis. Once the ship arrives at RHCT, the bananas are unloaded and transported to a ripening facility in New Jersey for processing. In this case, that load of bananas was distributed four days later by volunteers to at least eight agencies in the needy areas of Sunset Park, Gowanus, and Red Hook.
The Red Hook Art Project received 40 boxes each with apples, oranges, bananas, tomatoes and potatoes.
“It has been a huge impact in the community, especially the color community, as it is difficult to have access to healthy choices and fresh fruit. But it was also a happy moment to be able to share the blessings with Greater Red Hook. ” Tiffiney Davis, co-founder and executive director of the Red Hook Art Projectsaid. “The pineapples were a great way to get everyone to support and respect one another during these difficult times.”
Karen Blondel, organizer of the Fifth Avenue Committee, also led various sales efforts in Red Hook and Gowanus last month – – including ensuring supplies are made by RFG to social housing residents. Through her network of connections, she also spread the word RHCT volunteers organized production boxes for local pickup at the entrance of the container terminal.
“T.There were a lot of pictures posted on social media of what people were doing with their pineapples, ”said Blondel. “To see the pineapples and the smiles on their faces in the middle of this pandemic really touched me that we can help each other in dark times. Sometimes it’s just those little acts of sharing fresh produce that can make all the difference in someone’s life. “
According to the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, on April 17, RFP donated a shipping container of pineapple to the New Jersey Community Food Bank in Hillside – a supplier to more than 1,000 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters across New Jersey.
All hands on deck
The response to the donations from RFG was so overwhelmingly positive that other food importers, whose shipments are also delivered via the local terminal, also took part.
“We are an essential business. However, the term “essential” opened up a new perspective for us during this difficult time, ”said Jose Concepcion, Vice President for Central America at Seaboard Marine, on April 9th working with all of our dedicated partners, including those we do not work with directly . From farms, exporters, and overseas governments to customs brokers, customers, U.S. government agencies, and grocery stores both large and small. “
With this in mind, Stamatis emphasized how important it is to have an active port here in the five districts.
“A lot of fresh produce that comes into town comes straight here into the Red Hook Container Terminal and is distributed across town, including Hunts Point Market, Brooklyn Market and other local vendors and retailers,” said Stamatis. “It’s a real lifeline for the local community and the city as a whole. Without these docks like the one at Red Hook, everything would depend on getting into town, which may not always be the best option. “
Top photo: Seed volunteers at Hip2B Healthy Market in the middle, with fruit donations on April 22nd. Photo courtesy of Karen Blondel.