Village Life

The Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry Marks a Milestone

Pantry helps with Groceries and Meals

In the back of a pink church in Coconut Grove, a group of volunteers gathers every Tuesday morning to prep and deliver food without expecting anything in return except for the joy of helping others.

The Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry has fed the community from inside Christ Episcopal Church since 1984, when Ethel Phelps and Dr. David Wright saw the need to help the homeless community in the neighborhood.

This year, the food pantry will mark its 40th anniversary of providing aid to a community in need. The pantry has positively impacted not just its clients but also the volunteers who serve there.

Sandra Martin, who has been a driver since 2015 and took over as director of the food pantry in 2019, has witnessed the pantry’s growth and her own personal growth as well.

“When I give, I receive,” says Martin. “It’s touching that people really appreciate what we give to the community.”

Along with Christ Episcopal, other funding organizations include St. Stephen’s Episcopal, Plymouth Congregational, and St. Philip’s Episcopal. These congregations hold seats on the pantry’s board.

In the beginning, bags were packed and delivered to people who were ill, and other neighbors came in and selected their food. Through the years, the food pantry has grown in volunteers and people in need. It has also started to serve the community on a weekly basis.

Deb Dolson, director of outreach, remembers that when she started approximately eight years ago the food pantry was very different.

“We served 50 to 60 households every three weeks because of the low inventory,” says Dolson. “I remember that sometimes the shelves were empty.”

Dolson said the pandemic had a tremendous impact on the food pantry. During that time, many other food pantries began to offer drive-through services. In the case of the Crisis Food Pantry, many regulars did not have a car, so they started a delivery system that today distinguishes them from other food pantries in Miami.

The pantry’s clientele grew from 60 households to 225, which prompted the organization to confine deliveries to the Coconut Grove community.

Today, the food pantry meets the needs of its community with the help of partners such as Enriched Food Miami, which helps the pantry receive donations from Whole Foods, and Food Rescue US South Florida, which connects them with Trader Joe’s.

Currently, there are between 50 and 60 active volunteers, some of whom have served the community for many years.

Fredricka Brown, 93, has worked in the pantry since it was founded. Born on Charles Avenue, Brown has lived in Coconut Grove her entire life. As the oldest volunteer in the pantry, she doesn’t miss a day and packs 30 bags alongside one of her twin daughters.

Brown believes God put her in the path of the pantry for a reason: to help others.

“I’m still coming and trying to do the best that I can for the service of the Lord and the community,” says Brown.

Most of the work takes place on Tuesdays, but on Sundays, volunteers go to the church to receive donations from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and sometimes Sprouts.

Every Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., a group of volunteers gathers at the ‘pink church’ to start their community work. Between 9 and 10 a.m., tables are arranged for the volunteers to pack meals. Some tables have groceries, fresh produce, and warm meals. Others are set up with paper bags to make the process easier when it’s time to start.

At 10 a.m., everyone springs into action. Each table has an instruction sheet on what to pack in the bags, how many bags should be delivered, and by whom. These instructions also include where drivers should deliver the meals.

The delivery process begins at 11 a.m., when volunteers load around 30 bags per car for the deliveries. Meanwhile, another group of volunteers gathers at one of the church doors to distribute the food to the neighbors who come to pick it up.

Dolson reported that in 2023, the Grove pantry distributed 11,475 bags of groceries, which contained a total of 152,880 food items. Additionally, they prepared 1,897 meals.

Dolson attributes this accomplishment to the collaboration of clients, donors, and volunteers who gather every Tuesday to help.

“Tuesday is our favorite day of the week,” says Dolson.

The food pantry welcomes donations of non-perishable food at the Christ Episcopal Church on Sundays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information, visit https://coconutgrovecrisisfoodpantry.com/

FIU student Amelia Orjuela Da Silva wrote this story as part of a cooperative agreement between FIU’s Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media and the Spotlight.

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