In late May and early June, the eastern coast braced itself for the clarion of the cicadas. It had been 17 years since their last emergence. In somewhat of a symbolic way, much of the world was slowly stepping out into the aftermath of the pandemic. Restaurants, small businesses, and service workers in the food industry continue to crawl out of their shells created by COVID-19.
One of the many places that felt the impact was Martha’s Table—a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that supports communities by increasing access to quality education, health and wellness, and family resources.
These very things became even more pertinent with job losses and a struggling economy. Kim R. Ford, CEO of Martha’s Table, knew what had to be done as a part of the organization’s mission.
“When other organizations closed their doors, we stepped up, increasing our food access operations.
“We went from serving 2,000 grocery market guests a week to 2,000 a day. We invested 1.4 million in families through direct cash assistance, grocery store gift cards, infant supplies over a 4-month period,” Ford shares.
The demand and needs of the community were accelerated with COVID-19 and further revealed the inequities of food, among other things.
Martha’s Table continues its efforts through a daily market and food truck to increase access to healthy food and support those within the D.C. community.
Community and Self-Care
Self-care was not just in name only during the pandemic. With increasing cases, lockdowns and much uncertainty, stillness caused people to examine what truly mattered and for many it was health.
Tambra Raye Stevenson, founder of Women Advancing Nutrition Dietetics and Agriculture or WANDA, intentionally practices what she preaches.
“Sisterhood is truly our medicine—that is the first food. A meal in isolation is not enough to quench our spirits and bodies,” Stevenson says.
WANDA is a Black women-led nonprofit serving as a connector within D.C. communities to center Black women within food and nutrition. The organization is intentional about centering everyday people and providing a platform for them within the community.
“We are medicine, and we will not weaponize our sisterhood,” says Stevenson.
With the isolation of quarantine, Stevenson knew going forward that being together as a community would be the difference.
“People love celebrating Black culture. We knew centering Black women for WANDA was going to be the transformative medicine needed—especially now,” she says.
Stevenson also knew as a resident of the community she is committed to serving, that representation only was not enough and that it was crucial to be intentional, culturally conscious, and committed to the process of Black liberation through food.
Being clear about centering Black women in leadership and having a platform is not new, but championing other organizations to commit to this fully can be a challenge.
“We need to build the table factory. It’s not enough to have a seat at the table,” says Stevenson says.
Ownership and sovereignty were non-negotiable for WANDA.
In the summer of 2020, the spotlight was on police brutality and systemic racism. With the pandemic wreaking havoc, many watched as major corporations and companies released statements of solidarity. Some went so far as to pledge money and resources to the Black community. A year later, nothing has happened.
But as a fourth-generation Oklahoman now residing in D.C., Stevenson is reminded of the history of not just her family but of the nation.
“When I began to do the work for WANDA, I had to go on that self-journey of becoming my own ‘food shero’ in order to invite a collective of other ‘food sheroes,’” she shares.
Value-based leadership that aligns with the vision and the mission of WANDA also means changing the narrative.
“If we are truly committed to securing food security, we have to invest in the human security of Black women,” Stevenson adds.
Answering The Call
Together, WANDA, Martha’s Table and other community organizers are joining together to do just that while and answering the call to fight for food justice.
Market 7 DC is among the ranks. One way it is helping is by stimulating the local economy by providing space and customers for emerging brands.
“One of the most important parts of our community’s liberation is achieving health equity,” says Mary Blackford, owner of Market 7.
Blackford started this initiative to address the social needs of the residents in the Ward 7 community in D.C. Market 7 has been selected as Whole Foods Market’s (Mid-Atlantic) Local Supplier for 2021.
WANDA, along with these organizations and more community partners, will be hosting their first in-person Sisterhood Supper in celebration of Juneteenth. In addition to the main dish of self-care and healthy side portions of food, fun, and fellowship, the organizers and leaders will kick-off a challenge to celebrate sisterhood through recipe collective action and policy change to improve nutrition security and food justice. Attendees will hear from Beverley Wheeler from D.C. Hunger Solutions among a panel of other women who are actively working toward food justice.
Resources for healthy food access will be available at the event. The Sisterhood Supper will be held on June 19, 2021, at The Well in Oxon Run Park from 4 pm to 7 pm EST. It is free to RSVP.
The recipe collective action currently has a call for submissions of stories and recipes for the Sisterhood Community cookbook, which will be available for purchase in the future.
Beyond the Juneteenth celebration, WANDA is asking the community to make a pledge to continue the be the catalyst even in their own homes. Supporters can pledge online using the #sisterhoodsupperchallenge with a chance to win raffle prizes.
“We really are encapsulating a critical time navigating through the crisis of COVID-19. This cookbook, when so many others celebrate celebrities, says that you are enough.
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“Your everyday nana, mama, auntie recipes are enough to be celebrated. Your stories do matter. They are no different than artifacts found on an archaeological dig today,” Stevenson says.
Stevenson is currently in the process of writing a book on leadership and what it is like to center Black women with platforms and in positions of power.
She concludes, “My focus continues to be on the hidden figures within the food world and how we can amplify those voices and how there can be access to capital to invest in them and the concepts.”
For more information about WANDA and the Juneteenth event and to register, go here. You can also follow Stevenson and WANDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more information about the work, upcoming events, the cookbook and more.