New Roots, Inc. is bringing together communities to address the real issues of food insecurity and social justice.
New Roots, Inc., with the assistance of the Gendler Grapevine Project, is connecting a conservative synagogue, Congregration Adath Jeshurun (Congregation AJ), and a church, Living Faith Christian Ministries, through increased access to and consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits. Another goal of the initiative is to work toward an increased understanding of the historical relationship between Jews and African Americans in Louisville. Using food justice as an entry point, these two communities are working together to address social justice as well as spiritual, physical, and emotional healing. New Roots, based in Louisville, KY, has been working to address the issue of food justice for a long time. They have been so successful, in fact, that they were recently invited to the White House to talk about how they are helping low income communities access fresh food.
This specific initiative has been transformative for many of the people involved. It has pushed the Jewish community of Louisville into places they never would have gone.
After many months of training, they started off the summer by initiating a Fresh Stop Market in the Parkland Neighborhood of Louisville at Pleasant View Baptist Church. This is a neighborhood that experiences extreme poverty and lacks grocery stores and farmers’ markets. New Roots successfully challenged Congregation AJ to create a minyan of shareholders who paid the higher end of the sliding scale for this Fresh Stop. They realized consistent engagement from Rabbi Slosburg, Cantor Lipp, and eight congregation leaders/members at all ten Fresh Stop events over the twenty-week growing season. A few congregation members stepped up to help lead the Fresh Stop, alongside Parkland Neighborhood resident leaders. Almost every congregation shareholder donated at least one additional share at each Fresh Stop, which were then given to residents who were not able to pay anything, thereby engaging the severely food insecure.
Supplementing their Gendler Grapevine Project grant with funds received from the Humana Foundation, New Roots recruited ten of the fifty families (20%) of the Cherish Forever Preschool to take part in the Fresh Stop, bringing them in as Veggie Rx participants.
They also held three interfaith events: a dinner/food justice workshop at Living Faith Christian Ministries (80 total people attended); a dinner and interfaith discussion at Congregation AJ (100 people attended); and a Selichot/Prayer Service at Congregation AJ (55 people attended). The first event at Living Faith included an account of the very first integrated lunch counter in the Jewish community by the gentleman who owned the pharmacy, and testimony from an African American woman describing her first experience at an integrated lunch counter. This was the first time anyone in the room remembered being in a diverse space with frank discussions about social/food justice in Louisville. This historic event utilized participatory democratic principles to get people talking about food justice and it worked!
The second event was an opportunity for non-Jews to tour a synagogue for the first time. It was a deep learning experience for everyone involved and increased understanding and compassion between Jews and Christians in Louisville.
The Selichot Service was entirely about food justice and was facilitated by African American food justice leaders in partnership with Cantor Lipp. It included spoken word, R&B versions of Hebrew prayers, and a fiery sermon by a Fresh Stop site pastor about how New Roots has removed apathy and resistance from their community.
The multiplier effect this initiative has had on the community has been enormous. One of the most important and long lasting is the effect on the Jewish response to hunger. Many members of this community are no longer content to simply show up once a year on Yom Kippur with a can of processed food to give “to the needy.” They now have a much deeper understanding that fresh food is a right, not a charity, and are walking this talk by participating and helping to lead the Parkland Fresh Stop. Rabbi Slosberg has said that knowing part of his share cost goes to subsidize a family who cannot afford to purchase fresh food otherwise, plus understanding that both his family and the other family are eating the same exact food over the coming week (as opposed to him merely fostering the consumption of processed food by a food insecure family while he goes shopping at a grocery store) has lifted the veil that had separated him from the reality and complexity of food insecurity faced by many in their community. Finally, Rabbi Slosberg focused his Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur sermons on food justice this year.
One of the most exciting outcomes of this initiative is that another synagogue has been inspired to replicate this project! This new synagogue will become higher end shareholders at another Fresh Stop in 2016. In addition, the Jewish Community of Louisville (JCL) and New Roots are partnering on a JOFEE Fellowship grant to help a young Jewish community member step into a food justice organizing role in 2016. Their hope is to have a Jewish Community Fresh Stop in 2017. Finally, a recent write up about this Gendler Grapevine Project initiative made its way to a funder in Michigan, who has reached out to New Roots with plans to support a Double Up (SNAP Benefits) program in Kentucky.
They will focus their efforts for the remainder of the grant on connecting the Cherish Forever Preschool with the AJ Preschool chef.
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