SOLAR PRODUCTION117.9MWh OF CLEAN ENERGY
EQUIVALENT TO 91.4 TONS OF CARBON OFFSET
EQUIVALENT TO $12,620 DOLLARS SAVED
EQUIVALENT TO 198,140 MILES NOT DRIVEN
In the summer months, the garden at Community School 55 in South Bronx, NY, is an oasis of green, teeming with fresh vegetables and herbs that nourish the school’s students and surrounding community. During the winter, however, it’s a different story. Like most gardens, it’s been put to rest for the season and it leaves an empty space in a community that can ill-afford it.
Though only five miles from Manhattan, Community School 55 is inaccessible by mass transportation and located in the midst of low-income housing, in one of the poorest Congressional districts in the United States. Student population statistics at the school are grim: 75 percent are in single parent homes, 59 percent are in childhood poverty, and the graduation rate is a dismal 32 percent. On top of these already sobering numbers, 37 percent of students are food-insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Food insecurity is compounded by the fact that the community around the school is a food desert – defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an area devoid of fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas where grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers are scarce to non-existent.
Community School 55 teacher Stephen Ritz set out to make a meaningful difference in the lives of his students. He created the Green Bronx Machine, a nonprofit program that integrates growing and cooking healthy food into STEM programs for students. He’s spent the last several years developing it, and has aligned academics with common core while giving students a hands-on experience that produces healthy food and a healthier community. Ritz often says “It’s easier to raise healthy children than fix broken men,” which is why the program is so important – and he’s getting great results. The Green Bronx Machine has led to an increase in daily attendance and boosted the graduation rate.
Macy’s found out about the Green Bronx Machine when a member of the Macy’s Green Living committee saw Ritz speak at the ICSC RetailGreen conference in 2015. Intrigued by what she heard, she followed up with him to find out more – and then she had an idea.
Knowing many Macy’s locations have an excess of unused holiday decorations, she saw an opportunity to repurpose them in a sustainable way and support the Green Bronx Machine at the same time. She shared what she knew with the New York Go Green ERG, and the group set out to transform the seasonally barren garden space into a winter wonderland for the Green Bronx Machine students.
The Macy’s store in Yonkers, NY, contributed decorations and Christmas trees, and Macy’s volunteers from the Go Green ERG and Partners in Time purchased additional materials to round out the collection. The Green Living Committee contributed Christmas lights to the cause (solar-powered LED ones, of course). “We pulled together everything we needed to make it really special,” said Associate Merchandise Planner Kevin Fobi, who coordinated the event and who also serves on the Macy’s Green Living Committee.
On one of the coldest days of the year, volunteers from the Go Green ERG and Partners in Time came together with the Green Bronx Machine students and program founder Stephen Ritz to transform the garden space. “It didn’t feel too bad, actually,” remarked Fobi. “Maybe our hands were a little cold, but we knew if the kids could brave it, we could, too.” About a dozen students helped with the project, and many of them connected with Macy’s volunteers. “Kids were running up from the very start, saying they wanted to be part of our team,” said Fobi. “At the end, one of them asked us to sign his Santa hat.” New York Assemblyman Michael Blake attended the event and spoke to students and volunteers alike, inviting all to an upcoming football game at Yankee Stadium.
The results were stunning – and in more than a visual way. “Wow, does the school look great!” said Ritz in a follow-up note to the Macy’s team. “Kids loved it, and were back on Saturday to admire their work and play in the snow. (It was) an absolutely amazing event and we so appreciate your efforts!”
It had an impact on volunteers, as well. The location of the school presented something of a challenge, but it’s one worth overcoming for future projects. “We all really enjoyed it,” said Fobi. “We definitely want to come back; we’re really impressed with the school and the program.”
It’s a story that combines some of the best of what Macy’s does – sustainability, heart-felt volunteerism, and giving back to the community – to create a winter wonderland to lighten the hearts and brighten the spirits of a community rising to combat overwhelming odds.
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