Puerto Rican consumer food and fresh food distributor, Caribbean Produce Exchange Inc., announced the creation of a coalition of multiple food industry sectors and the local Agriculture Department to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Farmers to Families Food Box Program.”
Through the initiative, the coalition will use $107 million in grant funding to deliver 1.2 million boxes of food to support farmers and families facing food shortages in their homes as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.
The project will also create 200 jobs in several operational phases during its six-week run, officials said.
The boxes average 40 lbs. and are being distributed through a wide network of community entities and nonprofit organizations. The initiative has the potential to benefit 1,200,000 families through the weekly distribution of 200,000 boxes. A range of entities have joined the effort, including the United Way, Iniciativa Comunitaria, Sor Isolina Ferré Centers, Banco Popular Foundation and MMM Foundation, as well as church entities, elderly homes, and community projects, among others.
As the coordinating company, CPE will provide combined boxes of fresh foods including protein, vegetables, fruits, root vegetables, dairy products and eggs, which will be purchased from local and stateside farmers, as well as from other local companies.
“This project represents a great responsibility because we are moved by two great forces: First, the commitment to support our farmers and colleagues in the food industry, who have suffered a huge blow from this emergency,” said CPE President Ángel R. Santiago.
“The other vital factor is hunger, which doesn’t wait and causes greater damage to our people. This allocation allows us to nourish the island with fresh products and provide better food. It also helps reduce the impact on health conditions and the prevalence of diseases that affect our citizens, such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and obesity,” he said.
The agricultural sector in general has experienced dramatic losses due to the total shutdown of the economy and businesses on the island, including hotels, restaurants, chains, agricultural markets and the school cafeteria program, among others, causing multi-million losses.
Similarly, hundreds of thousands of families financially affected by the emergency have become unemployed and are going hungry as they have no resources to buy food for their homes, as reported.
The USDA awarded contracts to multiple suppliers in the continental United States and Puerto Rico. Locally, several companies in the food industry received fund allocations. To maximize the positive impact of the $107 million, CPE has extended collaboration ties with land and maritime transportation companies, importers, meat, chicken and pork processing plants, distributors and food processing companies, agricultural unions, supermarkets and chains.
Marie Estela Cestero, chief development and communications Officer at the Sor Isolina Ferré Centers said the nonprofit will be delivering food boxes to communities in Ponce, Guayama, Juana Díaz, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Salinas, Santa Isabel, Caimito and Canóvanas.