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Caribbean Produce Exchange delivers 2.7M food boxes in Puerto Rico during pandemic

Caribbean Produce Exchange Inc., a Puerto Rican consumer food and fresh food distributor, delivered 2.7 million food boxes through its participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Farmers to Families Food Box Program” since the initiative began in May.

More than 9 million people on the island suffering from food insecurity that has escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic benefitted from the program that relied on a multi-sector coalition to reach Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable populations.

The USDA program granted Caribbean Produce Exchange and its partners $107 million in May, plus another $35 million in September to give continuity to the initiative, as this media outlet reported.  

Over the holidays, the company carried out an effort separate from the USDA program, delivering 600 boxes — in partnership with the private sector — to residents in the island municipality of Culebra still facing food insecurity.

The company responded to a request by nonprofit organization Mujeres de Islas asking for the support.  

“We received an urgent call on Monday from the Mujeres de Islas entity asking for support to address food insecurity in Culebra. This included helping hundreds of citizens, children and senior citizens who are facing financial hardships and are unable to buy food,” said Caribbean Produce Exchange CEO Ángel R. Santiago.

“These circumstances have been aggravated by the pandemic impacting all of the communities. We immediately assembled food boxes and coordinated the logistics to arrive in 48 hours, to deliver food boxes and distribute food to everyone who needs it,” he said.

The food box distribution was mainly stationed at the Escuela Ecológica where hundreds of residents collected their combined boxes of fresh food via drive-through delivery to their automobiles. Additional deliveries were made to the island’s home for the elderly, to members of the Fire Department and the community kitchen located at the SEVA center (Sede de Experiencias Vivas de Aprendizaje) who voluntarily prepare and deliver food to bedridden and other citizens facing hunger.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of economic resources and massive unemployment stemming from lockdowns, the closing of schools and the commercial sector worsened food insecurity and chronic hunger across Puerto Rico. 

According to a research study conducted by the Hunter College Food Policy Center in New York City on this topic, living amidst chronic hunger and food insecurity circumstances affects the emotional well-being and mental health of children and older adults who live within or below poverty levels and vulnerability.

Hunger and related stress factors also impact academic achievement and health of children and deepens economic stagnation among individuals, according to an analysis by the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics. 

The Institute for Youth Development has estimated the population living in these conditions at 58.3%. In the island municipalities of Culebra and Vieques, the impact is even more acute since they depend on maritime transportation for the majority of the island’s basic provision services provision, a lack of basic infrastructure and a high unemployment rate that worsens the overall socioeconomic scenario of these families.

“Mujeres de Islas would like to thank Caribbean Produce Exchange for their quick response and solidarity in bringing food boxes for all our Culebran families, just in time for Christmas. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have received help from various nonprofit organizations, such as the Hispanic Federation and the Colibrí Foundation. We are also grateful of other companies that have helped us face the economic challenges impacting our communities,” said Dulce Del Río Pineda, spokeswoman for the entity. 

CPE also had the support of Vieques Air Link and its president Carlos Rodríguez to transfer resources and achieve a quick turn-around in coordinating assistance to Culebra’s plea for food boxes.

“Food insecurity has deeper consequences in the impact it has on Puerto Rico’s economic development, not just today, but for future generations. Addressing hunger is a primary responsibility to which CPE has been committed to decades,” Santiago said.

“After the 2020 experiences with earthquakes and the sustained crisis arising from the pandemic, it was a top priority to respond to these communities in need, particularly during Christmas,” he said.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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