Brownsville catering company mass-produces meals for borough-wide distribution

salad short
A hospitality worker preparing salads for meal distribution.
Photo by LaToya Meaders

A Brownsville community-based catering company is mass-producing meals for hungry Brooklynites — churning out hundreds of hearty meals a day amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“During this time we want to make sure people keep their immune systems up,” said LaToya Meaders, co-founder and director of operations at Collective Fare. “Everyone is going to get a delicious meal no matter where you live, no matter where you are if it is coming out of our kitchen. 

Collective Fare converted the kitchen at the Brownsville Community Culinary Center — which houses the catering company on its site — into a meal-production machine. Meals are prepared by hospitality workers who were previously trained at the community center’s free culinary school under chef educator Rodney Frazer, who co-founded Collective Fare with Meaders. 

“There are times when professionals need to band together and put together their skills to make sure the food is handled properly and that everybody is serving in a healthy way,” Meaders said. 

A number of city organizations have donated food, which Meaders said is either directed for delivery as a pantry item or to be prepared into savory dishes like peri-peri chicken salad and jerk chicken with rice and peas. 

“Collective Fare takes certain items that need to be prepared fresh,” she said.  “We prepare really awesome meals out of that food.” 

The catering company has been distributing meals to nursing homes and shelters throughout Brownsville and eastern parts of Brooklyn and has extended its reach further into the borough with the help of partners, like neighborhood makerspace Universe City. 

“I get phone calls from Bay Ridge, Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay asking for help,” Meaders said. “And if I put them in contact with any of our partners, I am able to get them food.” 

The food campaign has also extended its services to frontline workers, who may not have the time to shop for food as occupancy limits have created hours-long waits at most grocery stores. Many of these essential workers call Brownsville home, according to BCCC’s co-founder and content director. 

“People who are being exposed to the virus on a daily basis have to come back to Brownsville and don’t have time to cook,” Lucas Denton said. “It was already rough to eat healthy in Brownsville.”

A recent report by Food Bank For New York City found that Brooklyn had the highest rate of food insecurity in the city, with Brownsville among the top ten neighborhoods lacking access to fresh, affordable food. Denton further noted that residents of the organization’s namesake neighborhood are particularly susceptible to impact from the novel coronavirus due to pre-existing conditions that go hand-in-hand with that lack of access.

“Brownsville has already been suffering from a public health epidemic resulting from diet-related illness which itself is caused in a large part — if not entirely in most cases — by systemic inequality and access to fresh and healthy foods,” he said.

However, the current crisis may shed some light on best practices, Denton said, noting that the opportunity to feed masses of people during the pandemic could provide insight into how to better distribute healthy food to their community once the crisis settles down.

“There was not a very-well articulated infrastructure for health foods before the coronavirus began,” Denton said. “So, we want to keep in mind what we are doing so we can keep it going.”