People around the world are grappling with many ways life has changed since the pandemic started. As businesses close and the economy slows, people in marginalized communities often suffer the most. In this moment, it is clearer than ever that we have a shared responsibility for the health and well-being of our neighbors.
Mercy For Animals recently partnered with 15 local vegan restaurants to donate and deliver 1,800 plant-based meals to New Jersey residents in Newark and Camden. The ambitious project began in July and ran through mid-October.
The meals were served in collaboration with three grassroots organizations supporting and empowering residents during these challenging times. And local restaurants, all owned by women or people of color, helped make a difference: More Life Cafe, Seed Burger, Vegans of Seitan, Ginger Fig, Vege Kingdom, Vibez Juice Cafe, Blueberry Cafe, How Delish, ShaRee Amour Juice Bar, Plant Base, Heart Beet Kitchen, Miss Rachel’s Pantry, Vegans Are Us, HipCityVeg, and Nourish. Erin Kwiatkowski, corporate partnerships manager at Mercy For Animals, said:
By donating nutrient-dense plant-based meals in these underserved communities, we can advance our mission to build a more compassionate food system and amplify the essential work of local community organizations in New Jersey.
One of the nonprofits we worked closely with, Newark Science and Sustainability, empowers residents to gain control of their health and create their own food systems through urban farming. Their signature annual events—including the Sustainability Ambassador Program, the Harvest Garden Tour, and Newark’s farm-to-table community meal—focus on community building, healthy eating, and environmentalism.
Mercy For Animals provided nearly 550 plant-based meals, coordinated a vegan chef demonstration, and engaged volunteers and local government officials in support of the group’s programs. Through this partnership, many Newark residents were able to form strong relationships with local vegan restaurant owners and try delicious plant-based food for the first time. Bilal and Breonna Walker, founders of one of the participating community gardens, stated:
Exposing our communities to plant-based nutrition options is vital to closing health disparities in underserved communities.
We also collaborated with Bridges Outreach, an organization that provides food and crucial services to unsheltered people in Newark. We worked with local restaurants to offer 100 hearty plant-based meals every weekend for two months to folks experiencing housing and food insecurity. We also partnered with Camden County Women’s Center, which provides refuge and resources for victims of domestic violence, by donating 25 vegan meals per day for 21 days to women and children at their shelter. An employee at the center said:
Working as a victims’ advocate is hard, sometimes relentless work. Every day we face new challenges as our clients navigate through the systems and resources, regain their independence, and simply learn how to live and trust again. The staff at CCWC thanks the community for always having our back and ensuring that our clients come first.
The project is part of Plants to the People, a Mercy For Animals initiative launched as a direct response to the coronavirus pandemic. We have provided similar interventions for communities in New York City and Chicago.
In New York, we partnered with Community Solidarity—America’s largest vegetarian hunger-relief organization—to donate 2,000 meals to people experiencing food insecurity due to job and income loss.
In Chicago, we teamed up with I Grow Chicago, a community organization working to address the traumatic effects of violence and poverty, to deliver 250 plant-based meals to families in need. In total, we have donated over 4,000 vegan meals through our Plants to the People program.
To achieve Mercy For Animals’ vision of a world where animals are respected, protected, and free, we must reach outside our typical circles. Partnering with organizations and businesses allows us to help underrepresented communities, support vegan restaurants, highlight the incredible work of local organizations, and continue to bring “plants to the people.”
Learn more about how you can get involved by signing up for the volunteer list at MercyForAnimals.org/action-center.