Food pantry in Coconut Grove helps the homeless with groceries and meals (includes video story)

In the back of a pink church in Coconut Grove, a group of volunteers gathers every Tuesday morning to prep and deliver food without expecting anything in return except for the joy of helping others.

The Coconut Grove Crisis Food Pantry has fed the community inside the Christ Episcopal Church since 1984, when Ethel Phelps and Dr. David Wright saw the need to help the homeless community in the neighborhood.

Along with Christ Episcopal, other funding organizations include St. Stephen’s Episcopal, Plymouth Congregational, and St. Philip’s Episcopal. These congregations hold seats on the pantry’s board.

In the beginning, bags were packed and delivered to people who were ill, and other neighbors came in and selected their food. Through the years, the food pantry has grown in volunteers and people in need. It has also started to serve the community on a weekly basis.

Deb Dolson, director of outreach, remembers that when she started around eight years ago,                                       the food pantry was very different.

“We served 50 to 60 households every three weeks because of the low inventory,” says Dolson. “I remember that sometimes the shelves were empty.” 

Dolson said the pandemic had a tremendous impact on the food pantry. During that time, many other pantries began to offer drive-through services. In the case of the Grove Pantry, many regulars did not have a car, so they started a delivery system that today distinguishes them from other pantries in Miami.

Its clientele grew from 60 households to 225, which prompted them to confine deliveries to the Coconut Grove community. As a result, they lost some partnerships, such as Feeding South Florida, but gained many more partners who are still working with the pantry today. For example, Enriched Food Miami helps the pantry receive donations from Whole Foods, while Food Rescue US South Florida connects them with Trader Joe’s.

Currently, there are between 50 and 60 active volunteers, some of whom have served the community for many years.

Fredricka Brown, 93, has worked in the pantry since it was founded. Her brother, Julius Simmons, and Dr. Wright started collecting food on Thursdays for the homeless people in the Coconut Grove area. However, they needed help in bagging it for distribution on Fridays. They contacted neighbors, including Brown, and asked for help.

“I’m doing the same thing I did before,” says Brown. “I pack bags with food for the needy community and, along with one member, deliver them to the families who can’t come get the bags.”

Born on Charles Avenue, Brown has lived in the Grove her entire life. As the oldest volunteer in the pantry, she doesn’t miss a day and packs 30 bags alongside one of her twin daughters.

Brown believes God put her in the path of the pantry for a reason: to help others. 

“I’m still coming and trying to do the best that I can for the service of the Lord and the community,” says Brown.

Brown is the senior volunteer at the Coconut Groove Crisis Food Pantry, where she has worked for more than 39 years, helping the communities surrounding Little Bahamas. (Photo by Amelia Orjuela Da Silva/Caplin News)

This story was first published in the Coconut Grove Spotlight

Amelia Orjuela Da Silva is a senior majoring in digital journalism with a minor in social media and E-marketing analytics. After graduation, she wishes to pursue a career in the entertainment field as a writer/reporter to shine a light on stories that need to be discovered.