Robyn Hillman-Harrigan and Lillan Gerson started serving fresh fruit on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk in May 2012, just a few short months before Superstorm Sandy would barge in and shift their focus to a new community-oriented project.
During the summer of 2012, Hillman-Harrigan was pleased to see that there was demand for the fruit on skewers. Shore Fruit, a collaborative project by Hillman-Harrigan and Gerson, projected a bright and fun image. It was a part art and part business project. Shore Fruit sought to promote social interactions by selling fresh-cut fruit, according to Gerson’s blog, Lillian Gerson. While there was demand, there would often be kids who simply couldn’t afford to pay $3 for their products. “I was already thinking about how to make healthy food more accessible,” said Hillman-Harrigan.
For months after the storm, people were left with very little resources; Hillman-Harrigan herself was left without power. Many continued to live in apartments and houses without electricity during the cold months. “The need for food was very great,” said Hillman-Harrigan. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, she realized she could put her cooking skills and the bicycle-powered cart from Shore Fruit to work. Gerson and Hillman-Harrigan started cooking hot meals for neighbors and community members in need.
Since starting the project a year ago, the Rockaway Rescue Alliance Shore Soup Project (RRA) has gone on to serve more than 60,000 meals. But the RRA has evolved beyond serving meals as well to a more expansive project to bring the community together, such as hosting community programs, farmers markets, community gardens, and recently completing its first season of providing services through a pay-as-you-can food truck. Through the various programs, “we are trying to get people closer to the food system,” said Hillman-Harrigan, who is now the Executive Director of RRA.
After successfully raising nearly $30,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, Shore Soup launched its pay-as-you-can meal options from a food truck. With all items having a suggested price below $6, the Shore Soup food truck served more than 10,000 meals to residents and visitors over the summer. The idea was simple: “People can choose to pay what they can afford.” Some patrons of the truck paid as much as $40 for their meal.
Hillman-Harrigan wants to further establish and expand their efforts. The next phase is to establish a facility for their various efforts, including a community kitchen. Superstorm Sandy’s destruction exacerbated issues associated with the lack of access to healthy food. After the storm, she sought inspiration from the fact that “so many people who came from all different walks of life to prioritize helping the larger community.” The brick and mortar presence that she hopes to establish is to bring different sectors of the community to come eat together. “If people are interacting, if they are collaborating. Friendships are built, and stronger relationships are formed.”
To reach the next phase and to keep the project going, the Rockaway Rescue Alliance is hosting a benefit event on October 23rd at 7:30pm at the Bowery Hotel. Local restaurants, wineries, breweries, and other regional sponsors have teamed up to support the Rockaway community. Since the storm, hundreds of volunteers have contributed their energy to support the community. “The generosity of people was very inspiring to me.” Hillman-Hannigan said. Despite challenges that she faces, she said, “we’ll keep advocating for a healthier community.”
More information about the Benefit for the Rockaway Shore Soup Project can be found by visiting http://bit.ly/ShoreSoup.