Produce for the People food donation box. Image: Courtesy Megan Morello.

Addressing food insecurity has come a long way since Thanksgiving canned food drives. Meet local innovator Britany Rodarte who founded Produce for the People to provide easy, year-round opportunities for neighbors to share abundance.

Britany Rodarte leaves a red wagon in her yard to collect excess produce donations from neighbors. Images: Courtesy Megan Morello.

During the COVID-19 shutdown, Rodarte wanted to make a difference by feeding neighbors in need.  She started by baking bread and sharing loaves. Then, in her Rolando yard planted with raised beds and roaming chickens, an idea sparked. Rodarte founded Produce for the People, a nonprofit program that provides an outlet for home gardeners to share the overabundance of fruits and veggies they grow. When Rodarte saw a glut of food growing in her own neighborhood’s gardens in contrast with long lines at food distribution events last year, she devised a plan. Rodarte views her role as a registered dietitian, not merely as a health expert, but one who supports the food system holistically, connecting a healthy diet for all while promoting a healthy planet. 

How to Start-up a Food Drive

To ignite the movement, Rodarte distributed flyers throughout her neighborhood wherever she saw fruit trees and gardens growing. “Anyone with extra produce can drop off at any time. Home gardeners, people with too many orange or lemon trees, or people who bought extra produce they know they won't eat. I leave a red wagon and a sign outside where neighbors can drop off donations,” says Rodarte. The community has responded positively allowing the group to donate between 25 to 100 pounds of produce a week. “Neighbors express gratitude for the opportunity to serve and share,” says Rodarte. 

Collection bags ready to distribute to neighbors at WAWG. Image: Courtesy Megan Morello.

Rodarte partners with food photographer Megan Morello who hosts a second dropbox in North Park. As former coworkers, their collaboration feels natural and they know people appreciate the ease and flexibility that encourages donation drop-offs at any time. The two take turns collecting, storing, and delivering the produce to We All We Got Mutual Aid in City Heights for weekly distributions. “The last couple of years have felt heavy, but taking small steps to support positive change has been heartening and hopeful. In doing this work I've been reminded that kindness persists. There are so many people that genuinely want to help and are willing to take action,” says Morello. 

Neighbors collecting donated food at WAWG. Image: Courtesy Megan Morello.

Community-focused Mission Promotes Sustainability

To fulfill their mission of promoting social and environmental justice while addressing health disparities, Produce for the People chose We All We Got as their distribution hub. According to Rodarte’s research, within City Heights’ four and a half square miles, 43% of the population live below the poverty line. City Heights is home to more than a dozen liquor and convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, but only one major grocery store. She explains, “Produce for the People is trying to alleviate a disproportionate lack of access to healthy foods. Health is a human right and the first necessary step toward health is gaining access to healthy food.” The nonprofit program hopes that by providing access and education, they will help vulnerable individuals significantly increase their daily intake of fruits and vegetables, and in the long term, make a difference in decreasing the rates of chronic disease associated with a poor diet. Rodarte’s group is working toward sustainable change by making healthy food more attainable, and since residents do not have to travel miles to obtain it, it also reduces vehicle emissions.

The organization recently submitted a grant proposal to the EPA's Environmental Justice Small Grants Program for new nonprofits. If awarded, Produce for the People will use the money to teach simple, sustainable practices like windowsill gardening to clients and purchase additional local produce from small farms like Wild Willow Farm for distribution. In the coming year, they also hope to connect with community gardens to glean excess food.

Looking for Ways to Make a Difference?

To get involved or make a donation, message Britany Rodarte @dietitian.cooks on Instagram for produce drop-off locations. 

About the Contributor
Cherie Gough
Cherie Gough is an award-winning freelance writer based in San Diego. She is passionate about food equity and loves writing about innovative people finding positive solutions.Find her on Instagram @cgoughwrites.