As protesters marched through urban streets in 2020 and the global pandemic claimed hundreds of lives in Washington D.C.'s predominately African-American Ward 8, drivers for D.C.-based Martha’s Table kept up with a 365-days-a-year mission: to deliver food to those facing housing instability.
“McKenna’s Wagon, our free food truck, … goes out every night, no matter weather, no matter holiday, no matter protests, no matter anything,” says Kim R. Ford, once a teenage volunteer with Martha’s Table now serving as president and chief executive of the 41-year-old nonprofit.
“We had to literally go through tanks, Capitol Police, military police … DEA,” she says. “Someone had to make sure that what we were doing never missed a beat.”
Far from missing a beat, Martha’s Table not only expanded its popular free groceries distributions but also sowed the seeds of what would become a cash-assistance program providing financial support to Ward 8 families in need.
It’s all part of the organization’s broader emphasis on treating all of its neighbors and patrons with dignity and respect, as it works to increase access to quality education, family resources, and health and wellness through access to healthy food.
For thousands of D.C. residents, that access to healthy food comes through one of the Martha’s Table lobby locations at The Commons—a campus for community programs in Ward 8—and The Maycroft apartments in Northwest D.C.
In March 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, Martha’s Table was providing shoppers with 500 bags of free produce and shelf-stable items every day. “Within a month—by April last year—we were doing 1,000 bags a day, and then by May we were doing 2,000 bags a day,” says Ford, 40, who grew up in D.C. and has been at the helm of Martha’s Table for two years.
Martha’s Table added 10 pop-up market locations in Ward 8 to supplement its two lobby locations to meet the increased needs of the community.
“We actually were supporting about 10,000 individuals—unduplicated unique individuals—every week,” Ford says. “That has started to lighten up, now. We're at about 5,000, which is still huge.”
Martha’s Table helps another 6,000 families through its Joyful Food Markets, monthly pop-ups held in elementary schools in Wards 7 and 8. School families can shop at no cost for a variety of high-quality produce, including bananas, apples, leafy vegetables, and sweet potatoes, as well as basic shelf staples such as pasta and beans.
Martha’s Table was born in the area of 14th Street NW as a safe space for children to access after-school meals. Today, food is one of the organization’s three primary program areas.
For the 18 months ending June 30, 2020 (including the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic), its food-focused Health and Wellness initiatives accounted for almost 40% of its $20 million program services budget.
Education initiatives—which comprise nationally accredited early-childhood education, after-school programs, and college and career readiness training—are its largest focus and account for 46% of the program services budget. Martha’s Table also offers Family Engagement programs to help “strengthen the home-school relationship.”
“Food justice isn't just about food,” Ford explains. “It's about transportation. It's about safety. It's about economic independence. These things all come together,” Ford says.
A Cash Component
Martha’s Table launched a cash-assistance program to help provide economic stability, in addition to food, to Ward 8 residents between March and July of 2020 during the pandemic. “We supported 137 families, 207 young people ages six weeks to 4—we actually gave them $9,000 free and clear,” to use as they saw fit, Ford says.
That program eventually became part of the Thrive East of the River partnership with Martha’s Table, Bread for the City, 11th Street Bridge Park, and Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative. It now aims to provide five months of financial support, including weekly groceries and $1,100 in monthly assistance, for up to 500 families.
“We had hundreds of new donors come to Martha's Table because of our cash-transfer program,” says Ford. “Because people understand, particularly in an emergency situation, that the most dignified thing to do is to say, ‘I know you, I trust you. And here's something that can help support you and your family.’”
Learn more about Martha’s Table.
Guided by Kellogg’s African American Resource Group and our wellness brands Special K, Eggo, MorningStar Farms, and Kashi, Kellogg has launched “Black History. Every Month.: A Call for Food Justice,” shining a light on the barriers to food justice and elevating the work of local heroes fighting to remove them.
We invite you to join the fight for food justice in three ways:
● Learn more about food injustice and the barriers to healthy food systems in your area.
● Support food justice programs with donations and by following them on social media.
● Spread the word about organizations fighting food justice by sharing their stories on your social media channels, using hashtags #BHEM, #cultivatefoodjustice