From family gatherings to first dates, shared meals are perfect complements to deep conversations, inside jokes and unforgettable memories. Indeed, food is a key ingredient to relationship building. At Fortune, we know this well. Every day, we build community through the wholesome selection of foods we offer at our Long Island City, Queens and Harlem locations. Over 1,000 meals are served through our Food program each week.
But like all good things, moderation and mindfulness are vital to keeping food a joy instead of a burden. That’s why we combine our weekly meal programs with hands-on nutrition education and cooking demonstrations, sharing simple ways of making healthy choices daily. And through our Farm Fresh program in West Harlem, locally grown fruits and vegetables, plus baked goods and spices, are available to all who stop by.
I oversee these efforts, working with our staff to build holistic food experiences. My journey at Fortune started in 2014, when I came on board as a part-time Nutrition Educator. Concurrently, I worked as a clinical dietician at a health care services organization, helping individuals with mental health histories overcome barriers to healthy eating. But as Fortune’s Food program grew, so did my role. My experiences supporting individuals with mental health histories led me to dive deeper into the Fortune program, expanding it to serve more in our community, while being cognizant of the rich diversity within it.
As a result, we now offer nutrition education programs in Spanish and English. We see crowds of 300 at our cooking demonstrations each week, where individuals learn culturally familiar ways of crafting nourishing, fulfilling meals. Every participant walks away with creative recipes and free produce to replicate at home what was taught, making for fun surprises at family dinner.
Mornings are fun, too, with the Hot Breakfast Bar (HBB), our offerings of readily available food to enjoy. At Castle Gardens (our supportive, permanent housing facility for low-income and formerly incarcerated individuals), HBB is a popular destination– it’s now available five days a week to meet community demand. Visitors at our Long Island City, Queens’s offices will enjoy ready-made breakfasts in the near future, and we’re planning to make HBB a lunch destination, too.
The services we provide teach an important lesson: That self-care is vital to productivity and success. We encourage our clients and community to approach food with a mindfulness that connects body and soul. Our future growth efforts point to this aim, including the creation of a herbal meditation garden that will support our Farm Stand program with self-produced goods, and provide staff with a place to reconnect, recharge, and regroup, beginning in Spring 2017. We also hope to launch a nutrition clinic in the future, giving clients and staff access to accurate and culturally competent nutrition counseling.
When you eat well and are connected to nature, you feel better. Unfortunately, many justice-involved individuals experience food scarcity and health issues due to poor diet, making their paths to success even more of a challenge. But by addressing this head on, in diverse ways, we ensure that they’re equipped with one more ingredient to craft a fulfilling life.
Jamie McBeth is the Nutrition Educator at The Fortune Society.