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The Doe Fund’s Mobile Markets Drive Change in NYC

The Doe Fund, a leading organization in New York City dedicated to breaking the cycle of homelessness, addiction, and recidivism through their nationally acclaimed work-based model, was the recipient of a bridge loan from REDF Impact Investing Fund (RIIF)  in 2020. 

Flexible capital and capacity building support from RIIF powered the pilot of its Good Food Works program’s  Mobile Markets project. Loan proceeds were used to purchase two refrigerated vans that bring affordable, fresh groceries and prepared foods to partner sites across the Big Apple while creating paid training and employment opportunities for individuals who’ve experienced homelessness or incarceration.

In a virtual chat, we sat down with Leroy Green, Mobile Market Manager, and Jason Finder, Director of Good Food Works, to discuss the power of opportunity, the promise of their Mobile Market model, and the potential of the hardworking individuals they employ.

 

“Cooking is a way of life for me. I’m happy if I can get someone to taste the cooking and talk about it. It’s all about the food.”

Through and through, Leroy Green is a food guy with a palpable passion for cooking. His voice changes from steady-paced to lively vibrato each time the topic comes up in our conversation. It’s no wonder that he’s taken his passion and developed it into a profession over the last six years using the support he gained at The Doe Fund as a springboard.

After graduating from The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing and Able culinary arts program, and holding back-of-house roles across the city, including line chef at an NYC-outpost of a James Beard nominated restaurant and head chef at Columbia University, Green is settling into his role managing the pilot mobile markets project. This new social enterprise program creates paid employment opportunities for culinary arts graduates and provides access to wholesome, affordable meals to neighborhoods that are often overlooked. 

Jason Finder, Director of Good Food Works, sees this multi-pronged approach as a necessity to addressing some of the biggest challenges our society faces.

“Our goal is to help move toward a healthier world full of healthier people, and we’ve chosen food as the medium because the food system touches everything. Not only is it an enormous employer capable of offering meaningful opportunities for folks of all backgrounds and experiences, it is also a key lever of environmental and physical health,” shares Finder. “If we want to offer opportunity to those we serve, we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to equip them with the job skills necessary to maintain employment and help cultivate a healthy world in which they, and future generations, can live, work, and thrive.”

Green’s own journey to a healthier life has had its twists and turns, with hard won lessons along the way. As he helps others on their path while strengthening his management skills, his life experiences and justice-system involvement have made him particularly adept in his role.

“I’m someone who’s always willing to help and guide. It’s not about me and it never has been. It’s about helping others as I help myself,” explains Green. “I’m good at what I do but I’m still teachable and open to learning.”

In a moment of reflection, Green notes that this was a change in attitude, and attributes the ability to uncover it to his time as a trainee at The Doe Fund, where Finder says he was a “star, standout student.”

“Before The Doe Fund, this wasn’t me. There I learned how to compromise and take advice. I never apologized before. Now, in the moment, I see what’s going on and I don’t react. I learned how to stay still.” 

Growing up, Green had no shortage of vision and ambition. He’s quick to acknowledge that he comes from a great family, but notes that his neighborhood lacked strong examples of what was possible outside of a street-centered life. That changed when, after spending over 25 years in and out of incarceration, Green heard about The Doe Fund.

“I never had the chance or opportunity to see another type of life. I needed to see someone like me on a different path, and that’s what I saw as a trainee, others doing what I was trying to do and going where I was trying to go.” shares Green. “That grabbed my attention.”

One of Green’s first roles was to serve meals to fellow residents living in the shelters out of which they run the Ready, Willing and Able program. Three times a day, alongside six other trainees striving to build a better life and overcome histories of addiction and incarceration, Green served over 700 meals. 

“Each time I’d serve a meal, 21,000 times a day, I’d see myself in them. I knew I had to change. I began taking advantage of every opportunity at The Doe Fund and completed every program, learning along the way.” 

Along with honing the foundational skills he gained at The Doe Fund, Green’s entrepreneurial spirit, dedication, and flexibility have helped him thrive in his role as Market Manager in a year that quickly evolved due to COVID-19. Though Green’s passion remains for cooking, he’s uncovered new strengths in marketing, networking, and management. 

For Finder, among the hardship and heartaches of the last 15 months, silver linings for Mobile Markets have emerged. 

“COVID-19 really accelerated the necessity of our model. Healthy grab-and-go meals and mobile vending were not the norm,” shares Finder. “This summer and fall we’ll be expanding to new locations and introducing a new seasonal menu developed in collaboration with local chefs. Ultimately, we plan to continue refining and expanding the model in an effort to create more good jobs, more supported pathways to employment, and more convenient healthy food options for the communities we serve.” 

Both for the business and himself, Green is excited about what the future holds. Whether his career path keeps him in a managerial role or takes him back to the kitchen to cook, he’s gained the stability and strengthened the skills he needs to achieve his aspirations, and he’s meeting the future with resolve. Thinking back to the individuals he served meals to, and the more than 600,000 Americans released from state and federal prisons each year, Green takes a moment of pause.  

“Most of those individuals are looking for a better way but they don’t have a path. Somewhere along the line, they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. With The Doe Fund, there were options and things started making sense,” shares Green. “Now I have a plan and a path. I have peace and the opportunity to thrive. I see that light and that light looks good.”

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