By Paula White
Since its founding, The Watershed Project has catalyzed community organizations to take care of natural resources in their watershed in order to foster resilience. Over the past 20 years or so, our understanding as an organization of what makes a community resilient has evolved. This year, with much of our face-to-face programming paused due to the pandemic, we have relied more than ever before on technology, of course, but we have also created new partnerships with community-based organizations and community leaders to help us in our work. Let’s “zoom” in on our food security projects in North Richmond, Rollingwood, and Parchester Village to see how these partnerships work.
Back in March and April, all of our routines were shattered by the pandemic and we had to create a new normal, both at home and work. Many of us turned to gardening, including The Watershed Project. We recognized that access to gardening space, soil, plants, and seeds is not equally distributed throughout the Bay Area, so in addition to our home gardening series of videos we created gardening starter kits and distributed them to residents of North Richmond and Rollingwood. This project would not have been possible without the support of the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County and Richmond Grows.
Vegetables take time to grow, and hunger won’t wait for six weeks until harvest. In response to this immediate need, we received a grant from the San Francisco Foundation that enabled us to purchase organic produce boxes supplied by Riverdog Farms and distribute them to people experiencing food insecurity. To identify the recipients, we relied on our network of grass-roots organizations and community leaders. Block Ambassador Regina Cuevas outreached to the local Latinx community to identify families in North Richmond and Parchester and also delivered the boxes to their homes. With Regina’s help, nearly a dozen families were able to get fresh organic produce. North Richmond and nearby Parchester Village are both food deserts, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more challenging for people to provide healthy food for their families. One recipient commented:
“Me encanta todo lo que me dan en especial porque es organico. Tengo un bebé que le encantan los tomates y los melones/I’m delighted with everything in the box, especially since it’s organic. I have a baby who loves the tomatoes and melons.”
- The USDA defines a food desert as a “census tract with a substantial number or share of residents with low levels of access to retail outlets selling healthy and affordable foods.
Men and Women of Valor (MWV), a North Richmond-based non-profit that provides a wide range of social services to the community, also helped distribute produce boxes to the hungry. MWV Executive Director Pam Bilbo explained that she has seen many more people experiencing hunger due to COVID-19 and in response, distributes food weekly. MWV helps 350 people per week by offering housing referrals, life skills training, computer coding classes, legal support services and more. In October, MWV hosted an event called “I Can Breathe Now” to educate the community about creating healthy air indoors and out by planting trees and plants. The Watershed Project planted a maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba) in front of the building with help from MWV staff. We look forward to watching this living example of our partnership grow.
The world has been through a lot this year, and I dare to hope for a happier 2021. I’m hopeful because I know that we can get through hard times ahead by sharing resources, helping out our neighbors, and appreciating the contributions of others.