This originally appeared on The Jewish News on December 5, 2019.
Kendra Watkins and Ben Ratner return to Detroit as Repair the World Fellows working with Detroit Jews for Justice and the Coleman A. Young Elementary School.
Last month, the current class of Repair the World Fellows held their final closing circles and said so long – but not goodbye! We’ve been incredibly inspired by their work as change makers during their fellowship year, and are excited to keep up with them in the months and years to come.
Here’s Annie Dunn who was one of Repair the World’s Food Justice Fellows in Pittsburgh. She took some time to share the impact she was able to have on others over the course of the year, and the impact the fellowship had on her. (Spoiler: She had such a meaningful year, she’s sticking around at Repair the World for another year to take on a leadership role!) Read on, then find out more about becoming a Repair the World Fellow.
What drew you to being a part of the Repair the World Fellowship?
I was in my final semester as an undergrad and still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what I was going to do after graduation. Corporate America sounded terrifying, moving back to my mom’s house in rural Michigan sounded equally terrifying, and my Grandma wouldn’t let me get away with waiting tables for the rest of my life. I had to make some decisions. Luckily, during my quarter-life crisis, my mother happened to be donating her time with a volunteer group in Detroit to beautify an old cemetery. That volunteer group turned out to be Repair the World: Detroit fellows. I decided to check out the organization’s website after she wouldn’t stop raving about what a meaningful experience she had. I was set on applying after just two minutes. I saw the fellowship as a platform to live out my values on a daily basis, and as the start towards a life of purpose. I was ready to stop wasting my time as a bystander in this corrupt and morally lazy world, and join forces with Repair the World as a positive deviant.
What sort of projects and organizations did you work on with during your Fellowship year?
I worked intimately with the ladies behind 412 Food Rescue, an amazing non-profit we share workspace with. 412 Food Rescue is a food recovery organization that aims to address the criminal problem that 40% of the food the United States produces goes to waste, while 1 in 6 Americans go hungry. The nonprofit fights hunger by rescuing perfectly viable food from restaurants, grocery stores, farms, retail stores, and wholesalers that is no longer sellable to the public. Perhaps the packaging was dented in shipping and handling, or maybe the 2,000 pounds of yellow peaches were accidentally labeled “white” peaches. For those types of reasons, the food would normally be destined for the dumpster. 412 Food Rescue redirects the food from going to waste and directly distributes it to organizations that serve those who are hungry. Through generous volunteers, supportive local businesses, and strong leadership, the organization has been able to bring fresh, nutritious foods to those living in food deserts around the city.
Who is one person you met during the year that you will never forget?
Ms. Cecelia Price-Knight will never be forgotten in my books. She and her family owned the hole-in-the-wall Jamaican restaurant a few storefronts down from our workshop prior to its closing this past year. Ms. Cecelia is one of the loveliest and most authentic people I have met in Pittsburgh to date, and it is extremely difficult not to love her. Not only can she cook a delicious meal, but she does it all with integrity. As a minority in the city, she recognizes the systems and narratives that exist to make her feel like an outsider in her own place of residence. But as a positive deviant herself, she never fails to carry herself as a citizen of the world. She once told me her main ingredient in all of her dishes was love. Cecelia and I shared many talks of how she plans to use her knowledge and energy to instigate more active civic participation in our neighborhood.
What will you take with you (in terms of ideas/inspiration/lessons) from the Fellowship?
There are two ideas that have stuck with me from the beginning of the Fellowship that will forever continue to influence the way I interact with the world. The first sounds so simple, but is so important: listen to the community in which you serve. I want to work to empower what skills and talents already exist in a community, rather than telling people what I think they need. When people feel empowered, they are more likely to address their own needs and advocate on their own behalf.
The second idea that I’m taking with me is the fact that optimal personal growth is best achieved when an individual is neither too comfortable nor too uncomfortable. To any readers that are totally bored at work and are feeling the pressures of a monotonous day job, I encourage you to do something that puts you outside of your comfort zone! Maybe it’s having transparent communication with your boss, or offering feedback to a coworker, or finally learning that new annoying mail system everyone in the office seems to have switched to. The point is to embrace adversity. Do not let your fears paralyze your growth. Do not turn from the challenge. Accept it. Maybe even fail once or twice, but don’t sweat it. It’s the failing to try that’s the problem.
What are your plans or hopes for life after the Fellowship?
I enjoyed my time so much as a first year fellow that I am returning to join Repair as their Pittsburgh Program Associate! I am looking forward to the opportunity of leading the next passionate cohort of fellows in the city and offering my experiences and knowledge with them as they navigate their new role.
What are your thoughts about doing service in an explicitly Jewish context?
For me, it is about rich history and wisdom and not about a religiously spiritual experience. This fellowship has helped me to understand that Judaism has values to teach about active citizenship and engaging in service.
The Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service is coming up quickly! We’ve introduced you to three of our pre-conference delegates/conference attendees already – now for something a little different.
Meet Rachel Fine. For the last two years, Rachel has served as a Repair the World fellow and education justice team leader in Detroit. Next year, she’s joining Repair’s staff as Teen Engagement Associate. So exciting! Here, she takes a minute to talk about how she got involved with Repair the World, how Repair will be participating in the conference, and what she’s most excited about. Read on…
For the last few years, Repair the World has convened a delegation of Jewish non-profit professionals at the annual Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service (June 27-29 this year). So much exciting work has happened in the world of service and volunteering within the Jewish world over the last decade. The delegation offers a chance for some of the leaders of this movement to get together, share ideas, and learn from one another.
We are so excited to have this year’s delegation meet one another. In the meantime, we want to introduce some of them to YOU! Here, we spoke with delegate Beth Steinhorn. As President of the JFFixler Group, which helps transform organizations through innovative volunteer and member engagement, Steinhorn has become one of the most inspiring and respected voices in the field. We asked her how she got involved with Repair the World’s delegation, what sessions she’s presenting this year, and what she’s most looking forward to at this year’s conference. Read on…
Every day, we are energized by the incredible, work going on in our five Repair the World Communities. In each of these cities (NYC, Detroit, Philly, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore), our fellows and organizational partners are building more connected, more just, and more vibrant communities from the ground up. Want to get involved, or get your daily dose of inspiration? Check out these upcoming events and plug in!
Repair the World: Pittsburgh
On May 17, Repair the World’s fellows are co-hosting an evening of learning and sharing about how early childhood education impacts local families and communities. Join in for great conversation and a chance to ask questions and hear from a panel of early education experts. And get clued in about education justice volunteer opportunities. Plus, snacks.
Repair the World: Philly
On May 18, join Repair the World’s Philly education justice team for a close look at the current challenges faced by Philadelphia public schools. The event will focus on the current budget crisis and how that it directly impacted students in their everyday experiences.
Repair the World: Baltimore On May 20, join Repair the World and JUFJ for a Shabbat service, a vegetarian Shabbat dinner, and a conversation and info session about how the international refugee crisis is playing out in Baltimore – and how you can get involved.
Repair the World: Detroit
On June 4 join Repair the World for an afternoon dedicated to celebrating the community. With food, music, button making, and lots of great people, this one is all about neighborly fun!
Repair the World: New York City
On June 10, join in for an outdoor Shabbat dinner in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Co-hosted by One Table and Repair the World’s fellows, the dinner will focus on the importance of knowing where our food comes from and offer opportunities to foster sustainable food practices across the city.
This post was created in partnership with Jewish Food Experience, a project focused on bringing people together around Jewish food, culture, and tradition.
What does food justice look like on the ground? That depends on where you are. Across the country, urban and rural communities of all sizes struggle with food insecurity and uneven access and availability to healthy food. But the particular challenges these communities face change from place to place—and the movement shifts in response to those changes.
Repair the World partners with local organizations and volunteers in multiple cities—Pittsburgh, New York City, Detroit and Philadelphia—and on multiple fronts to galvanize food justice movements that reflect and prioritize each city’s specific needs. Recently, we reached out to our food justice Team Leaders, who are working with these communities to get a firsthand account of what food justice looks like from their vantage point. Read on:
What is the most pressing food justice-related challenge in your city?
There are 2 Pittsburghs: the rust belt comeback story people talk about, and the segregation and separation that is keeping blacks, other minorities and individuals living on the margins from being able to access and partake in the “new” Pittsburgh. This affects the food movement as well. Farmers markets, urban agriculture and all the hot new eateries mainly serve the white, wealthier classes of the city. So how does our city continue to progress and move forward without leaving people out? – Greg LaBelle, 25
NEW YORK CITY
Hunger is the most salient food justice challenge for New York City. The high cost of living in NYC doesn’t just prevent people from consuming healthful foods, it straight-up prevents them from being able to purchase enough food. Some government and private programs help alleviate the hunger, but they are not sufficient and have physical and/or psychological barriers to entry. – Sam Sittenfield, 25
The availability and distribution of healthy food options throughout the city is pressing. Philly is the poorest large city in America. Food resources tend to be concentrated in the wealthiest areas while under-resourced areas have more corner stores (which often lack fruits and vegetables) and fewer grocery stores. – Bridget Flynn, 23
I think the most pressing food justice challenge in Detroit is childhood hunger. In southeastern Michigan, 1 in 5 children is food insecure and over 300,000,000 children qualify for free or reduced lunch in schools. Without consistent access to nourishing food, children and adults are not able flourish. – Erin Piasecki, 25
What role can/should Jewish food advocates play in helping address this challenge?
Jewish organizations and advocates can truly support the people fighting these issues when they understand how best to support the individuals and groups that need help. It is crucial that we not overpower the people who need help and not diminish the focus on them and their struggle.
NEW YORK CITY
The first thing that we need to do is to educate ourselves. Many of us in the Jewish community come from privileged backgrounds and will never truly understand hunger. We can, however, start to understand the context and how pervasive it is in our communities.
I have seen Jewish food advocates help to make positive change in the food justice sphere by listening to community needs and providing the resources to fill them. A major part of ally-ship is active listening before taking action. Jewish texts can also be used as a tool for food justice education.
Jewish food advocates have tremendous power to keep hunger, and particularly the plight of hundreds of thousands of hungry children, in the public eye through awareness raising campaigns, food drives, and other volunteer driven initiatives in their communities. By supporting and collaborating with longstanding institutions advocates can amplify and concentrate their fundraising and other efforts to eliminate 21st century hunger.
Find out more about Repair the World’s food justice work, including #SupportforRefugees, a Passover campaign focused on the global refugee crisis, and how you can become a future Repair the World fellow. Big thanks to some of our wonderful local food justice partners: Grow Pittsburgh, Keep Growing Detroit, Jewish Farm School in Philadelphia and Hunger Free America in NYC.
Curious what it means to be a Repair the World fellow? Here, current Detroit fellow, Alyah Al-Azem talks about taking a break from the daily grind for some Hanukkah nightlife, and muses about increasing volunteering during the winter holidays.
The holidays have a way of bringing people home from across the country, and it’s always fun to reunite with some old Jewish friends that you forgot you had. At least it was for me recently when I attended the 11th annual Latke Vodka event. This year the event took place in metro Detroit at the Majestic Theatre in Midtown. The event featured latkes (naturally), a DJ, bowling and live bands. It was great to see so many out-of-towners, and to introduce them to some of the new friends I have made since moving to Detroit.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how great the turnout was. People were spread out across the venue and yet every room seemed full. Thanks to some amazing sponsors like NEXTGen Detroit and the Detroit Jewish News, along with a great host committee, the night was a success and a lot of money was raised for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
Seeing all of my friends at the event got me thinking about the possibility of recruiting more volunteers during breaks. Students come home from college with time to spare – it offers the perfect opportunity to spend some time in a meaningful and influential way. We all have our own traditions this time of year and volunteering could easily be a central one for many students.
The city of Detroit has both strong Jewish roots, and a need for extra attention from volunteers. Repair the World works to create service opportunities that impact the community in meaningful ways. I hope that by extending our reach to visitors of Detroit, we will inspire people home for winter break to get involved.
Find out more about volunteer opportunities in Detroit this December – and beyond! – at Repair the World’s Detroit Fellows Facebook page.
Curious what it means to be a Repair the World fellow? Here’s former Detroit fellow (and current partner at Detroit Moishe House), Abby Rubin’s take in an interview conducted by Andrew Weiner.
Tell me a little about yourself?
So my name is Abby Rubin. I grew up in Cleveland. I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2013 with a degree in Organizational Studies, which means I learned how to make organizations run more efficiently and effectively, and just generally make them better. I was a Repair the World fellow last year doing education justice and fell in love with after-school programming,and the city of Detroit. Now I live in Midtown in the Detroit City Moishe House and work for Arts and Scraps, which is an amazing art and science education non-profit and I sell bracelets on Etsy!
Meanwhile, we’re spotlighting the work of awesome food justice-minded companies and organizations around the world. This week: Fair Food Network: an organization dedicated to building a more just and sustainable food system. We spoke with President and CEO, Oran Hesterman, not making sacrifices or compromises when it comes to helping food be sustainable and just for all.
Why is the work you do around food so important right now?
There are times when groups working on food issues seem to be camped out at one of two poles. On the one side are the epicureans or “foodies” who make the point that we need to pay the real cost for good food in order to support farmers. On the other side are the anti-hunger activists whose top priority is preserving calories for those most vulnerable. Make no mistake, the thinking behind both is commendable and necessary, but it should never be a question of whether we support hungry families or local farmers. We can and need to do both.
At Fair Food Network, we develop multi-win solutions that work across the food system to ensure that farmers earn a fair price for their products AND that families—especially those most underserved—have access to the most nutritious and delicious food possible.
Can you share a brief story that demonstrates Fair Food Network’s impact on food justice?
Our signature effort at Fair Food Network is a healthy food incentive program called Double Up Food Bucks. Double Up provides low-income Americans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamp) benefits with a one-to-one match to purchase healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Let’s say you’re a Michigan family living in Detroit. For every dollar of SNAP benefits you spend at your local farmers market, you get an equal amount to purchase Michigan grown fruits and vegetables. This means you can bring home $40 of healthy food for just $20.
Since 2009, we’ve grown Double Up from a small pilot in five farmers markets in Detroit to a statewide success story in more than 150 sites, now also including at grocery stores in one of the first such pilots in the country. Today nearly 90% of Michigan shoppers live in a county where the program operates. Our strong track record in Michigan helped inspire the new $100 million Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants program in the 2014 Farm Bill. Because of matching fund requirements, with FINI there will be at least $200 million flowing to support programs such as Double Up Food Bucks across the county.
This March, Fair Food Network was honored to receive $5.1 million in FINI funding to expand Double Up Food Bucks in our home state of Michigan. The grant, the second largest in the first round of funding, will be matched with private funds for a total of nearly $10.4 million, which will allow us to grow the program at farmers markets, help markets adopt mobile technology and be open year-round, and increase program use in up to 50 grocery stores of all sizes.
In what ways do volunteers get involved with your work?
The success of Double Up Food Bucks is grounded in partnerships. We are currently growing our volunteer network and looking for help in bringing the program to life, particularly as it expands to more grocery stores. Volunteers are needed to greet shoppers and share how Double Up works at participating stores, give store tours or healthy food cooking demonstrations, connect with community partners, or help coordinate other volunteers.
What are the biggest challenges to your work?
There are many successful sustainable food models out there that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. One of the biggest challenges we – along with many other groups – face right now is how to shepherd such programs from models into the mainstream. As we have seen with healthy food incentives, policy can be a powerful vehicle to help spread and scale innovations. It is up to us to continue proving the concept and keeping our elected officials engaged in and informed of our work so they can be champions of this work.
And on the flip side, what have you found most inspiring?
Double Up and similar incentive programs can be game-changers. SNAP accounts for the largest government expenditure in our food and agriculture system. Programs like Double Up leverage those federal dollars to meet families’ immediate food needs with fresh, healthy food. But it doesn’t stop there: if they maintain a connection to local agriculture, they can also support area farmers and keep money in the local economy, which in turn spurs economic activity and opportunity.
In this way, food stamps are not only a way to assist low-income families in the here and now, they are also a powerful tool for long-term healthcare savings and an engine for economic development and revitalization. Conventional wisdom says you need a carrot and a stick to change behavior. What we have shown with Double Up Food Bucks is that you just need a better tasting and more affordable carrot.
Learn more about Fair Food Network at their website. And hear what Carole Caplan, Director of Program Enhancement at Fair Food Network had to say about her passion for food justice and Judaism on Repair’s recent “What on Earth is Food Justice?” Webinar.