Sharing food and fellowship is the heart of Ciudad Nueva’s food co-op.
The neighborhood food co-op has been in operation for a little over a year and a half now, and the program continues to grow strong. In the beginning, the program served about 20-30 families, operating two days per week. We are now serving more than 150 families and opening the doors three days a week!
A place for the community to meet their own needs
The food co-op is a place for the community to come together to meet their own needs in terms of healthy, nutritious food. It is not food pantry that simply hands out food. There are many aspects that differentiate our food co-op from a food pantry including inviting the community to play an integral part of helping to solve the issue of food waste in El Paso and involving the community in every aspect of food pick-up, inspection, distribution and sharing. The food that is picked up is donated not only out of the goodness of the vendors’ hearts, but because it is either not selling, imperfect in appearance, or near expiration. These items would be thrown out if the food co-op didn’t pick them up.
“Each person that attends the co-op takes an active part in helping make it run,” says Bethany Molinar, Ciudad Nueva’s Youth and Family Programs director. “The co-op is not Ciudad Nueva’s — it belongs to the people who attend because they are the ones who decide how it runs, how food is prepped and distributed, and how the room is cleaned up afterwards.”
And the community has shaped the program by requesting educational seminars which have covered topics such as tenants’ rights, immigration, parenting, and English classes. Now there is a community advisory board that meets monthly to discuss the needs, plans, and even dreams for what they would like to see in their neighborhood.
Growing in love and in reach
As the program has grown, so has the need for a little more support and a lot more donations. Alma joined the team about a year ago, working along with Joe and Tamy to coordinate with donors and act as liaison between Ciudad Nueva, the co-op, and the three local stores and one local produce vendor who provide the produce every week. It is a big job with lots of heavy lifting, but the three of them make a great team.
Alma is also a community member whose two kids have been involved with Ciudad Nueva’s youth programs for about seven years.
“I wanted to do it for free, but they said I have to get paid,” says Alma, laughing. “It is a job, but it is also a way to give back to Ciudad Nueva because they are always giving to us. I love working with the parents at the food co-op, hearing their concerns, hearing the kids laughing and playing. It is unbelievable. It is a great place to be. I wish it was longer!”
Because of the neighborhood food co-op, many other community members like Alma have become more involved in what is going on in the downtown neighborhood:
- Moms have cooked food for monthly meetings hosted by the Downtown Church Connection.
- Parents have volunteered to teach classes in the middle school youth program.
- Co-op members help each other by delivering food to those who are sick or giving rides to others from the co-op. They have also been giving rides to doctor appointments or meeting other needs that they find as they get to know each other.
- The community advisory board mentioned above has been a hugely successful endeavor, giving the community members a place to discuss and make plans together.
One good thing leads to another
A few months ago, Ciudad Nueva donated some extra dry goods to the neighborhood food co-op, such as toilet paper and diapers. At the next community advisory meeting, the members discussed what to do with these items and realized that they were truly needed by community members all the time. So the board developed and approved the idea for the Tiendita (little store).
Items from the Tiendita are available to co-op members who pay a small fee to participate. The items are not free but are sold at a very low cost, and are available after every co-op.
Funds raised from the Tiendita go back into the Tiendita, and co-op members decide what items are most needed. Those items are then sold at cost, and funds are put back into the Tiendita again. This is a way for the community members to help meet their own needs in a way that they can afford.
Working together is always better
The co-op has truly become a hub for the community. It is a means of connecting with others and of meeting needs far beyond nutrition, although providing healthy produce is still its main mission. As new needs are identified, the members work hard to connect them with any available resources. They also pray together after every co-op meeting, writing down their requests so they can see how God is answering their prayers. This has been a powerful connection point for the community as they work to care for one another.
“In one of the families, the mom has MS,” says Tamy. “She can barely get out of bed, or even walk, much less come to the co-op. So we always make up a box and take it to her. Now that we have that connection, she feels comfortable asking for help like getting a ride to the doctor or to get her medication.”
Another family that had been regulars at the co-op stopped coming all of a sudden, and Tamy discovered that the grandmother was bedridden and near the end of her life. The co-op members were able to show love to the family through the difficult time by providing food and support.
“We are spreading the word and asking everyone to tell their neighbors,” says Tamy. “If there is someone who is sick or in need, we will make a basket and bring it to them. I just want everybody to have the blessings that we have every week.”
As these needs and concerns have arised, the community members have taken these concerns to prayer, and this has become an important part of the weekly food co-op meetings. The group shares the different prayer requests they have, prays for Ciudad Nueva staff and programs and for each other. As they have prayed for several months together they have noticed answers to their prayers. As a result the co-op has started to write down their prayer requests and go pack and comment when and how these prayers have been answered. We are thankful for the co-op and they way it has been able to meet physical needs of our community, but the growth in emotional and spiritual support is also a huge blessing to witness. We are thankful for our leaders and the ways they are able to listen to our community and grow our program in ways that truly benefit our community.
The food co-op is one of many community-based programs that we support here at Ciudad Nueva. Are you interested in getting involved? Please call us at (915) 521-2951 or click here.