At Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry, everyone is a volunteer. As Director of Outreach Deborah Dolson says, “We all share this mission in our hearts,” and they’ve been doing it for more than 38 years. Winn-Dixie has supported this organization through its Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs.
Tell us about the Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry.
Our mission is to help people in Coconut Grove who face food insecurity. The pantry began in 1984 when people in the Coconut Grove area saw the need for assistance for the homeless and food insecure. A woman named Ethel Phelps got together with other community members and founded the Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry. Fortunately, Christ Episcopal Church, which is in Little Bahamas, became the home for our pantry. The church offered us a space to operate. It’s been a long time, but the church has always supported and allowed us to flourish.
There are three other founding organizations besides Christ Episcopal Church: St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Plymouth Congregational Church and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Members of these congregations hold seats on our board and have guided the future of our pantry.
What services do you provide to the community?
The pantry packages and delivers groceries to 220 households in the Coconut Grove area weekly. In these food bags, we are committed to ensuring a balanced variety of nutritionally sound food. They always have shelf-stable canned goods, pasta, protein, breakfast and bakery items and fresh produce.
Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry is dedicated to well-proportioned food bags. With prices rising, it has become a much bigger mission to find those items, which is why donation programs like the Winn-Dixie Community Bag and Bloomin’4 Good Programs are crucial to our cause.
What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?
The number one thing that sets us apart is that our program delivers meals and groceries to our clients. Our delivery system started because of Covid. We had to figure out a way to get food to our clients since they could no longer come to us; so we started the delivery, which has continued.
Before Covid, we had about 50 or 60 people who came and picked up groceries. We then had to develop a model to get the food to our clients. Many other pantries began doing drive-through events. These events weren’t feasible for us because of our location and the fact that many of our clients do not have cars to get to a drive-up program. To continue with our much-needed food donations, we landed on the delivery model that ended up being so successful that we continued with it after Covid restrictions loosened.
The number one thing that sets us apart is that our program delivers meals and groceries to our clients.
Please tell us a story that illustrates your organization’s good work.
We have one client who has no permanent shelter. He has been in the Grove for many years and calls Peacock Park his home. He came to the Grove from another state, not knowing anyone or having a place to land. He walked around for three days and stumbled upon the pantry when we were serving meals. He had his first meal in days and was so thankful to have found the pantry. We became a resource for not only meals but groceries as well. This happened around seven years ago; we were able to give this man hope and somewhere to turn, and he has been with us ever since. When he picks up his groceries, he takes them to the park and shares them with other people in need.
Another similar situation the pantry assists with is people who live on boats around the Grove. There are a lot of anchored boats offshore with people in the same situation. They can’t come to the pantry because they cannot leave their boats and don’t have the funds to go grocery shopping. One woman comes in and picks up around ten grocery bags to deliver to these individuals. She takes the food onto her boat and goes around on the water giving it to all the others. It’s not just us caring for our clients; our clients care for each other.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
Reaching out and being able to help so many people in our community is essential to our team. Having so many volunteers assist over such a long time makes us proud.
In addition, we cannot emphasize enough the generosity of donors in and out of our community who give to the Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry. So many donate their time, funds and food to help uplift this community. It’s incredible how many individuals and groups come to us and offer support. The encouragement is amazing to have.
Having so many volunteers assist over such a long time makes us proud.
What do you want people to know about the Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry?
Every donation, no matter the size, is so important and appreciated. We send out weekly grocery bags containing over 2,000 items; nothing donated stays in our inventory for very long. In addition to all the donated goods, we use any funds we receive to shop weekly to ensure each grocery bag is balanced with fresh produce, bakery items and proteins. Every dollar, canned good and boxed item is incredibly important and goes immediately to a household in need.
How will you use the funds raised from the Winn-Dixie Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs?
We use the funds to purchase any fresh items we may need for our bags and ensure they have a nice balance of food. Sometimes donations will also help sustain the small inventory we have, although most everything we receive goes in one door and immediately out the other. Anything earned from the Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs is a great help to these efforts.
Every week we sit down and look at what we already have because each bag must get the same content. Filling in those inventory gaps is the primary way we use any donations. One of our amazing volunteers takes the shopping list and will go to five or six stores to ensure she gets the most out of the funds we receive. Seeing how much we can do with generous donations like the ones we get from the Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs is fantastic.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Everyone at the pantry is a volunteer, and we all share this mission in our hearts. The continuity of our volunteers is fantastic. One of our volunteers is 91. She was born and raised in Coconut Grove and comes every week. The dedication to our mission is amazing to see; it’s the heartbeat of our organization.
Our clients are so grateful. Now that we deliver, I see them less often, but our drivers bring back information and beautiful stories. For example, a driver might notice we provide to a family with kids, so we add milk to their bag. Our clients might be homeless and unable to cook their food, so they will receive unique bags with food that doesn’t need to be cooked. One client found out that their driver loves mangos, so during the mango season, they would have a cut-up mango ready for their volunteer when they showed up to deliver. The things that our clients do to show their appreciation are lovely.
Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry is not government-supported. We rely totally on the generous donations that we receive. Thank you to all that support our cause.
Deborah Dolson is the Director of Outreach for the Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry.