A mother and daughter duo steeped in the generational legacy of social activism have upscaled their Give & Go food nutrition project from a humble handful of families around the block, to now all five boroughs of New York, which covers Queens, Staten Island, The Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, reaching a remarkable 320+ families struggling to compete with the rising food prices.
When a fire tore through the Richmond Hill area in Queens in late 2020, it significantly impacted the students attending Richmond Hill High School, a local educational institution known for its wildly dedicated teachers. Among them is an exceptional multi-hyphenated woman, Angela Gaton-Wiltshire. To name a few, Angela is an educator for the deaf and hard of hearing, she is a bilingual teacher for speech and hearing, a developmental education evaluator, a special and general educator, and when her heart broke for the students at her school during the fire, she took it upon herself to extend her food pantry to those affected.
“Children are our greatest opportunity to make an impact. They’re curious, imaginitive, and have all the components of real change makers, so we started there, providing Give&Go Grocery Project to schools. If we can sufficiently nourish people with nutritious foods, education, and opportunities, they can be tremendous forces for good in every connection they make.”
The timing of this startup coincided with dramatic price hikes around food and the enforcement of Federal budget cuts to food programmes such as SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC – a special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children. Some households have seen their monthly support drop from $281 a month to $23. This drop, along with a hard-felt 50%+ price increase, has affected individuals across all socioeconomic backgrounds, causing a strain on people’s budgets and access to affordable essential items, including eggs, flour and milk.
To combat the “hunger cliff” being felt by the large population, Angelas sweet initiative rapidly burst into a commendable “The Gaton Foundation” run alongside her Co-Founder and daughter Kristen Wilshire, together serving now more than 320 struggling families with nutritional and culturally designed meal packs in New York each month, for free with love and deep consideration.
Kristen Wiltshire, who comes from a culinary science and nutrition educated background, holds herself with strength and carries the same burning compassion as her mother; she highlights that there are more profound benefits to this project that can be experienced in mass unity,
“Be aware of the next person. Be aware of the community. Be aware of yourself as an individual and your capacity to grow something, start something, give something do something for somebody else. Because through that, you clear out more space in your own heart in your own life, to receive energy, love, positivity, and all these other ways. If you haven’t, you’re being given an opportunity to give and to be the catalyst for change or the catalyst for education opportunities.
Currently, community gardens are being prepared around Queens by fellow partners, re-establishing our earthly connection to our food and farming, meaning that more households will be able to shift away from rising supermarket prices and chemically enhanced produce and have a place to compost their waste and return it to the ground rather than bulking up the landfill.
Until the gardens are ready, the Gaton-Wiltshire family are getting ahead of the game at home.
Kristen shares with The Jolly Times excitedly,
“It’s so important to give people the tools to grow their own food, whether it’s just a small tomato plant in your window, or a Tower Garden, in your home. You can take it to growing one more thing or eating more locally, sourcing your own food, knowing where it’s coming from all those things are so key to nutrition and to health. So that’s something that we’re zeroing in on. there are plenty of garden opportunities and we hope to make some of those more known to the community through the work that we do in in nutrition, education and other projects.”
Maintaining a closed-loop system in how they work and educate, the humble leaders have taken their time to consider every element in the process. The Gaton Foundation and its 45 volunteers have established a place firmly at the front of many serious conversations surrounding the food crisis around the country.
“The United States has so much energy behind food production in agriculture, yet we seem to have an issue with nourishing our people.
There are instances of obesity, chronic illness, and metabolic syndrome. Folks are dealing with obesity, yet simultaneously, within the same country, we have folks that cannot find their next meal or don’t know where it’s coming from, or they have to eat junk food because of their lack of orientation to Whole Foods.
There are so many interconnected issues with malnutrition. From motivation to memory and behaviour, all these things are tied to whether or not you had a decent meal that day. I’m so proud of everybody interested in this relationship between food insecurity or inaccessibility and classroom behaviour.”
Some of the helpful and joyous volunteers papped below. Source – instagram
Kristen continues powerfully,
“We like to talk food access. We see our programme as simultaneously a food access programme and a waste amelioration one. We know that food waste is a monumental issue across the world. Certainly, in the United States, fast fashion has an impact, and a tonne of food is wasted. Many companies are starting to generate new products out of those food waste materials like avocados being turned into mattresses and Apple skins and grape skins being turned into vegan leather for shoes. All of which are cool and on the forefront of something incredible in the materials space. But, still leaves an issue, because so many people go hungry, yet we produce enough food to feed everyone, yet so much it’s thrown away. So we really want to get to the heart of those issues.”
The Gaton Foundation is confronting this paradox by bringing the conversation and action to the forefront of everything they do. Recognising that many people might feel embarrassed or be subject to school bullying over receiving the Give & Go registry QR codes can be found around the local schools and neighbourhoods.
“We do try to preserve the dignity of the people who need this service because there becomes a point of non access when you’re feeling ashamed of signing up to something like that. And then you’re thinking, “Oh, well, the whole school community will know, and all my peers,” and things like that, so you don’t reach out to your social your school worker. We feel and we find that the QR codes cross the bridge of that and allow people to get in touch with us and then allow us an opportunity to give, which is so special.” Kristen smiles broadly as she recalls the gratefulness she has witnessed.
Angelas’ father walked resolutely alongside Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and the commitment to fostering love among fellow human beings has only intensified down the generations maintaining an indomitable force for equality and inclusion for all.
Kristen boasts fondly in admiration and passion for all people involved, recognising it takes a team and neighbourhood effort to upscale the support they eagerly wish to give.
“My mom started it. I worked with her everyday since on growing it. We’re going to continue to do that work every single day. I’m personally pumped to just be a part of something that she started and I’m glad that we were able to found a foundation that can hold the weight of this project and the projects that will come from it. I’m proud of all the resource partners and and institutional partners that take on this project and the research partners that support it. And for all of the the organisations that activate on the same issue that insecurity undernutrition, lack of access issue. I’m here for all of it.“
Working collectively in raising the volume of this ever-important conversation are the trusted partners of the Gaton Foundation, including the Zara Charitable Foundation, the Queens Christian Cultural Center, Commonpoint Queens and the Good Hope Church, who collectively work together to champion the same advocacy and care for the people they live amongst. Whilst existing organisations such as Re-Fed, Rethink Food, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation engaging in similar conversations over the years, The Gaton Foundation has joined the chorus from the ground level where the impact is felt and worked on directly.
The Gaton Foundation, which has sprung up in fierce action, is encouraging more people to adopt growing and giving no matter where they live. The benefit it brings to your bank account, physical and mental health and community relationships are monumental in living prosperously. In times of raising prices, harsh budget cuts and uncertainty ahead, the more we work together, only take what we need, and share where we can, the more prosperous our lives will likely be.
Angela and her family continue to be a massive source of inspiration and encourage anyone and everyone to engage with them, learn and support them in their fantastic work to keep their community alive, fit, healthy and educated.
Any donation goes a long way here, and they are always open to support in otherwise via recognition and more volunteers! You can get in touch to support them on either their Instagram @thegatonfoundation, and/or their direct website can be found at thegatonfoundation.org. This is truly an initiative that carries the heart of the people at the front of everything they do, and the world wants more of it.