By Amanda Kwan, Media Relations Staff
In mid-March, as the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact began to reshape life across the New York-New Jersey region, Peter Malo and Mike Stamatis started talking about the economic impact. Not on their business, but the community.
“We started thinking, ‘This is going to be bad. What can we do to help?’” said Malo, the president of Redi Fresh Produce, a food importer based in Queens, N.Y.
Malo works regularly with Stamatis, the president of the Red Hook Container Terminal (RHCT). His company’s fresh fruits and vegetables arrive through the marine terminal in Brooklyn. He knew an order of pineapples – 20,000 in total – would be arriving soon from Costa Rica, and Redi Fresh had a retailer to take them. But he and Stamatis wanted to give them all way.
At a time when businesses have closed, jobs are under threat and consumers are panic-buying, more people than ever are turning to local food pantries to help feed their families. Without restaurants or markets donating unsold goods, the food importers and distributors that receive shipments through the Port of New York & New Jersey’s marine terminals are stepping up, and so is the Port Authority.
“This generous initiative is a wonderful use of the Port Authority’s widespread community connections through our projects regionwide, and we are pleased that we can help by connecting our partners at the Port with community groups and food pantries facing serious problems getting food donations and resources,” said Beth Rooney, the Port’s deputy director.
In early April, Stamatis and Malo hatched a plan to donate pineapples to the neighborhoods around the Red Hook terminal. One of the most underserved communities in New York City, the Red Hook neighborhood has always been a supporter of the work at the container terminal, Stamatis said. With the pandemic, he and Malo knew that getting fresh food would become a major problem for local residents.
In the week before Easter, the pineapples arrived in two shipping containers. International Longshoremen’s Association workers sorted and unpacked 3,360 boxes totaling 70,000 pounds of pineapples for MTC Transportation, an RHCT trucking partner, to deliver to neighborhood food banks, pantries, and houses of worship. One container of pineapples went to City Harvest, which distributed them to five community food groups in Gowanus and Sunset Park.
The second container of pineapples was delivered by MTC Transportation volunteers to more than a dozen food banks and houses of worship in Red Hook, including the Center for Family Life Food Pantry (960 pineapples), Community Help in Park Slope Inc. (480), the Red Hook Arts Project (300), the Red Hook Initiative (300) and the New York Police Department’s 76th Precinct.
Some were distributed in fresh produce boxes organized by RHCT volunteers for local pickup at the gates of the container terminal in time for the Passover and Easter holidays. ILA workers, considered essential to the supply chain during the pandemic, were also given pineapples to take home.
“This community has supported us so much, we just wanted to do something to give back,” Stamatis said. “The Red Hook Container Terminal, its people and the surrounding community is truly a special place.”
Redi Fresh Produce donated a third shipping container of pineapples that arrived April 15 at the Brooklyn terminal. RHCT, which also has a facility in Newark, donated those 10,000 pineapples on April 17 to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey (CFBNJ) in Hillside, N.J., a supplier to more than 1,000 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters across New Jersey. The fruits made their “warehouse smell amazing,” said CFBNJ’s communications manager Nicole Williams, who added that the produce would be distributed this week.
To help organize similar donations, the Port of New York & New Jersey has identified more community food groups in need of assistance and is reaching out to its marine terminal operators to find more opportunities for donations of goods arriving at the terminals.
Stamatis also said more donations are coming from RHCT. Two other RHCT partners, E. Armata Inc. and Exp Group LLC, both distributors based at the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, have donated or will be donating incoming shipments of bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, rice, apples and oranges.
And yes, more pineapples, this time from Ecuador.