Kevin Monterola tries to make his groceries stretch every month. He works part-time as a concert lighting technician and when his gigs dry up, one of the things that takes a hit is his budget for food.
Monterola, 53, qualifies for SNAP benefits, but he said the amount he receives isn’t enough for a month’s worth of food.
He recently found out about the NoMi Food Market, a free food pantry for North Miami residents, down the street from his home. He perused the aisles in a small community room picking up cereal, canned split pea soup, a frozen pork loin and Nutri-Grain bars.
“It’s been tough, said Monterola. “The raises I’ve gotten from my job—cost of living raise—doesn’t equal your cost of living.”
The pantry is a partnership between the City of North Miami and Feeding South Florida. The city provides the space at the Sunkist Grove Community Center and also helps staff it through its social services division. Feeding South Florida leverages it’s partnership with big box grocery stores to provide a wide-range of quality food items and hygiene products. The pantry also provides assistance for people who need to apply for food benefits.
Nine percent of the people living in Miami-Dade, about 242,000 people, are food insecure, which means that they don’t know where their next meal in going to come from, according to Feeding South Florida.
Since opening two months ago, the North Miami pantry has seen an uptick of people age 50 and up signing up for their services.
“Our older adults are the ones that struggle the most with accessing those groceries and groceries in the amount that they need in order to provide for themselves,” said Paco Vélez, CEO of Feeding South Florida.
The classic model of mass food distributions in parks and public spaces is not efficient or consistent, said Vélez, especially for families with children and seniors.
Waiting in long lines to pick up a pre-packed box doesn’t necessarily take the family that needs the food into thoughtful consideration, he said. For example food allergies, specific dietary needs or whether the person likes the item.
“I know I’m not a fan of shredded wheat, but I will definitely take the Honey Nut Cheerios any day of the week,” said Vélez.
And some food items like dairy, produce and meat are hard to come by at free food distribution sites because they require refrigeration.
The North Miami pantry has two large refrigerated coolers. One is stocked with organic eggs, cheese, a variety of lettuces and vegetables and the other is stocked with various cuts of meat—pork, beef, and chicken. The offerings are constantly rotating depending on the donations.
North Miami residents can sign-up to access the pantry monthly for now, though the market has plans to make appointments available weekly as well.
This is the first time Feeding South Florida has partnered with a municipality to create a neighborhood pantry. The organization hopes to replicate this model in other municipalities.
Florida Blue Foundation provided a $400,000 grant to get the pantry up and running over two years.
Carrian Bowen-Antoine runs the day-to day operations at the NoMi Food Market. She says most of the pantry’s users see it as a supplement to get things they could not afford at the grocery store.
“If you weren’t able to buy an extra box of cereal or a peanut butter or to get the fresh produce, you can do that here,” she said.
Some hygiene products like toilet paper, diapers and tampons are also available.
Lenny Cabrera, 80, visited the pantry for the second time in two months. He’s retired and lives on a fixed income of $1,000 a month.
“It’s a big help,” he said of the pantry while picking up a bag of lentils and rice, frozen mashed potatoes and some bread.
Before he left he made an appointment to come back next month.
If You Go
NoMi Food Market
Sunkist Grove Community Center, 12500 NW 13th Ave.
8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.- 4:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
North Miami residents only
To make an appointment: email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 954-518-1857.
Photo Credit: Kevin Monterola says his grocery budget takes a big hit when work is slow. He recently found out about the NoMi Food Market, a free food pantry in North Miami.
NADEGE GREEN / WLRN NEWS