Residents participate in mealtime conversations to discuss how to improve housing, economic security, education


By: Jan Engoren
Contributing Writer

Last month, The Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties invited residents to come together in small-group mealtime conversations – On the Table – to explore meaningful ideas about how to cultivate a stronger community.

At CROS Ministries Caring Kitchen in Delray Beach, eight regular participants in the program ate lunch and participated in the discussion, facilitated by CROS Ministries staff member, Shona Castillo.

“We’re honored to be part of the On the Table community conversation around these issues,” said Gibbie Nauman, director of development for CROS Ministries. “We encourage our participants to have a voice in issues that matter to them.”

The Caring Kitchen program provides hot meals Monday through Friday and bag lunches on Saturday and makes home delivers to seniors and homebound residents.

The goal of the On the Table discussions is designed to unite people of all ages and diverse backgrounds to discuss issues such as affordable housing, jobs and healthcare that impact them and their community.

In 2018, over 4,000 local residents participated in the lunch time conversations, focusing on issues of housing, economic security and education.

Participants identified job training, skills development opportunities, the availability of good-paying jobs and increased wages as the most important priorities to help drive change on the economic front.

On the social front, respondents cited access to quality affordable housing, access to core services for all and services to address homelessness.

One of the main take-aways from last year’s conversations was the finding that most people felt hopeful about the future and saw their community as more united than divided.

“Last year’s participants communicated the strengths and needs of our community and generated dozens of ideas to improve our quality of life,” said Bradley Hurlburt, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties.

“These top three issues of housing, jobs and healthcare remain a priority for the small group gathered at CROS.,” Hurlburt said.

This is the second year of the civic engagement initiative, funded through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

This year there are 44 public tables throughout the county where residents can participate.  In addition to the CROS Ministries, locations include the American Heart Association and the Urban League in West Palm Beach and Carver Middle School in Delray Beach.

New this year, more local youth will be invited to join in the discussions, many of them from Emanuel “Dupree” Jackson Jr.’s organization in Delray Beach, the (EJS) Project, which aims to build and empower the next generation of community leaders.

At CROS Ministries, Issues of housing were front and center with many participants fully or partially homeless.

Being homeless without a tangible address restricts one’s ability to get a job, many in the discussion noted.  To complete a job application, one needs an address.  Living in a park or car is an obstacle to obtaining employment, whether or not you may have skills and a desire to work.

Although her grandfather built and owned his own home in Delray Beach, hard economic times caused Neferteta Newman’s mother to evict her from the home.

The 51-year-old grandmother occasionally sleeps in her mother’s car. She has a work history and recently completed a business class at Florida Career College. Her dream is to open a Christian book store.

In the meantime, she babysits her grandson, volunteers at the Caring Kitchen, attends church and is matter-of-fact about her job prospects.

In the discussion of affordable housing, Newman suggested having affordable and safe housing for single women, with access to transportation.

Others expressed interest in additional shelters and emergency housing and availability of Section 8 housing. A number of people noted the city has gentrified, reducing the number of affordable rental units.

A number of participants expressed concern that there are too many rules in shelters and more leeway should be given to individuals. “Not everyone has a substance abuse problem,” stated one of the men at the table.

Other participants noted that even though they may receive SNAP benefits, which limits prepared food items, they may not have a kitchen and be able to prepare their own meals.

Margo Vinik, 60, a participant and former real estate paralegal suggested utilizing mentors or case workers to help those in need and says that once she learns how to find and utilize resources, she shares that information with others.

One of the questions Castillo asked the group was: “What can we do to affect positive change in our community?”

Answers ranged from: Hosting more On the Table conversations to sponsoring community festivals and opportunities for people to engage with each other and reaching out to city council members.

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