Ralph Mancini | on June 07, 2018
A Jamaica-born entrepreneur’s vision of introducing a one-stop, all-natural foods cafeteria and culinary school to the peninsula is rounding into form.
Thanks in part to a $250,000 capital funding allocation on the part of Councilman Donovan Richards, Dr. Melony Samuels is spearheading an effort to add a ground-floor eatery to the Beach Green Dunes II affordable housing complex in Edgemere.
“It’s going to address a lot of health disparities and it’s also going to address job readiness in the community,” explained Samuels, who serves as the founder and executive director of the Brooklyn-based food pantry, known as The Campaign Against Hunger (TCAH).
“We’re going to be able to incorporate not only healthy eating, but getting those who have an interest in this, a food career.”
The cafeteria, she added, would provide a service to low-income individuals and families by offering them edibles on a sliding scale, as they’ll have the option to pay $3 for a $10 meal if that’s all they can afford.
Originally established as The Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger in 1998, TCAH’s humble roots as a church-basement operation has seen the charitable outfit emerge as Brooklyn’s largest pantry with 26 employees providing help to communities as far away as the South Bronx.
“I decided that, based on the needs of my community, to start a company that met a need and in doing so, the company evolved. I just started helping one family and then it went to 15, and then, the next thing, we’re doing 6,000. Now we’re feeding 30,000 individuals per month,” observed the married mother of five children and five grandchildren, who earned her doctorate in religious education.
In 2017, in fact, TCAH provided the basic staples of a well-balanced diet to more than 30,000 unduplicated, low-income New Yorkers.
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the organization began assisting affected residents in multiple Rockaway communities by teaching classes on the benefits of healthy eating while also employing a mobile choice pantry every Tuesday at 1921 Central Ave. in Far Rockaway.
In addition, TCAH also makes use of a half-acre of land at nearby Edgemere Farm, known as Far Rock Farm, where youngsters are invited to get their hands dirty by experiencing first-hand how fruits and vegetables are grown and harvested.
Samuels estimated that 70 forms of produce are grown in their allotted space, many of which are sold to the public every Saturday from July through November.
Moreover, local students participating in these programs are treated to farm tours, where they can interact with livestock.
Those who take a liking to the wonders of good, old fashioned agriculture can also take their passion to the next level by signing up for TCAH’s Green Team paid internship that will expose them to a farmer’s day-to-day responsibilities of managing the onsite crops.
The internship endeavor has resulted in many of its students going on to successful careers in a variety of industries, including accounting and environmental science, according to Samuels, who boasts more than 40 years in a myriad of business operation roles.
“We are working with youths surrounded by the bodegas,” she said in reference to those living in areas that don’t offer much in the way of healthy eating. “This is not a new thing for us; this is us using the knowledge we’ve already obtained over the years.”
One of TCAH’s summer initiatives designed to open a world of new alternatives to students is the “healthy bloomer” class in which children ages 4 through 11 are asked to learn everything possible about one particular type of food and its benefits.
Said Samuels: “Not only do they know the value, but they learn how to make the different recipes and snacks using a healthy approach.”
But the education isn’t limited to fiber-rich cucumbers, lettuce, carrots or tomatoes. Members of the organization’s expert staff will often take their young learners into food shops and supermarkets to show them what to look for when reading package labels.
Recently, TCAH has made a push to engage teens and young adults from the 16-24 age group who haven’t finished high school and are in need of professional guidance.
Samuels’ charitable team is committed to helping these individuals attain their GEDs and pursue careers in the culinary arts. The goal, to that end, isn’t only to train future members of the general workforce to be outstanding employees, but TCAH also furnishes them with the tools to someday become managers and ultimately business owners.
In the meantime, Samuels is in the process of adding a new chicken coop at Far Rock Farm to satisfy the growing demand for cage-free eggs that customers have grown quite fond of.
“Our mission is to end hunger and poverty by distributing food and empowering families through information,” shared Samuels, who over the course of the past decade has become one of the true and distinguished pillars of New York City’s hunger network.