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The Rockefeller Foundation

How do you get healthy food on the table when you can't find any?

This is a question that Ortilia Lujan Flores had grappled with many times before.

She wanted affordable, nutritious food, but lived in a neighborhood that didn’t have an accessible grocery store.


Flores couldn't drive, which limited the few food options she had. "There was nowhere to go," she explains.

All images via Upworthy.

Flores isn't the only one that's struggled with this problem — 41 million Americans don't have consistent access to nutritious food.

But when she moved to Denver's Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, she discovered a nonprofit that made all the difference.

This nonprofit is called The GrowHaus, and it takes a community-led approach to tackling food insecurity by giving neighbors the tools they need to improve their access food.

The GrowHaus knew that their community's challenges went far beyond a lack of grocery stores. They looked at everything from local food production to food waste and education, and they found that the issues residents were struggling with all seemed to be connected.

Food rescue is changing this neighborhood

They recover and deliver nutritious food to community members that need it most. For free. 🙌

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, August 30, 2018

To address the food crisis in their community, then, they needed to think bigger.

That's why The GrowHaus partnered with Denver Food Rescue, an organization that rescues food from donors (like stores and restaurants). Volunteers travel by bike and deliver that rescued food to The GrowHaus, where volunteers then distribute it to local families — ensuring it can be eaten rather than thrown away.

And that's no small potatoes. According to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, there's great potential to expand food rescue in Denver.

The NRDC found that under optimal conditions, 4,232 tons of additional food could be rescued each year — equivalent to 7.1 million meals — from retail, institutional and restaurant locations within the city. When organizations like The GrowHaus take advantage of rescued food, everybody wins.

But that was just the beginning of their efforts. The GrowHaus also wanted to ensure that residents like Flores could actually access fresh food more conveniently, too.

So they established a neighborhood market, Mercado de al Lado, which has fresh produce as well as meat and dairy products, most of which is organic and/or local. The market uses a tiered pricing system to ensure that the food is accessible to everyone, including SNAP recipients.

"I saw that they sell organic, nutritious things," Flores explains. She was surprised to see this kind of food in her neighborhood, especially after struggling to find it for so long.

The GrowHaus also has a solution for residents, like Flores, who can't drive to the market. They offer a weekly food box filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and dry goods sourced from as many local farms as possible and deliver right to their doors at affordable prices.

"It has what people need," Flores says. "Vegetables, potatoes, sometimes they bring eggs. So, things that nourish us."

If you're not a cooking aficionado, The GrowHaus also offers weekly bilingual cooking classes. Every week, volunteer nutritionists teach residents about the importance of healthy eating and how to prepare different foods.

After sharing a meal together, participants get to fill a box with produce to take home from The GrowHaus' free food pantry. By sharing unsold produce from their market, The Growhaus helps to ensure the sustainability of their own food system.

The GrowHaus is even growing their own food and empowering other residents to do the same.

They now have multiple urban farms, all of which focus on sustainability and education.

There's a hydroponics farm, which grows plants in a nutrient solution or in eco-friendly perlite or gravel instead of soil. The farm produces around 1,200 heads of leafy greens per week but manages to use 90% less water than a conventional farm.

They also have a seedling nursery to help residents establish their own gardens. And for community members still working on their green thumbs, there's a Growasis — a permaculture farm. Here, residents can also learn more about sustainable practices, like how to compost or even raise chickens.

"They are always looking at what we need," Flores explains.

Tackling food insecurity isn't easy. But thanks to organizations like The GrowHaus, people like Flores are able to create their own solutions.

Community members in Elyria-Swansea are now growing their own food, educating one another about nutrition, feeding their neighbors, and best of all, ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table, no matter who they are.

Up to 40% of food is wasted in the United States, yet millions of people are unsure where their next meal is coming from. Redistributing just 15% of the food that is currently discarded could feed 25 million people.

And The GrowHaus hopes that by modeling that impact, they'll show what is possible for communities around the country.

For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Together with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot – or will not.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

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James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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