In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with Local Matters' Lead Food Educator, Monique Williams-McCoy.
Monique Williams-McCoy is the Lead Food Educator with Local Matters and spends her days in classrooms with Columbus youth. She educates students on how to take care of their bodies with affordable, grow-able, and healthier foods. Having been with Local Matters since its early years, Monique has witnessed a decade of the organization’s efforts to combat food disparities. She reflects, “We don’t all look the same, we’re not all going to be the same size, we’re not going to be the same height… [instead] it’s about what you’re doing to take care of your body... To make yourself feel good.”
In Monique's first years at Local Matters, her coworkers recognized her as hardworking, but also loving and full of humor. They quickly realized there was not much she couldn't do. With so few staff on the team (only 8 facilitating the entire organization), everyone took on multiple roles. Monique not only prepared healthy and delicious meals but did everything in between. From things as imperative as budgeting, down to easier but equally important things such as sourcing nut-free ingredients -- Monique was willing to serve. Now, thanks to an increase in budget and staff, she is able to focus more on what she loves: teaching. “I wouldn’t trade my job for the world. There is nothing like getting up every day and loving what you do." Coming from a background in both childcare and catering, this job is the “perfect marriage” for her. Monique has a way with children no matter age or the background. She insists that she never has a day she doesn’t want to go into work:
Monique has always been active in her community and has focused her efforts on youth. Monique's older sister recognized her love for serving her community and when she saw a job opening at Local Matters, she submitted Monique’s resume on her behalf. Though Monique protested, her sister insisted she was made for the position. Monique’s older sister has continued to support her and taught her one of the most valuable things you can do is:
Monique urges others to truly know that no matter where someone is in their life, there is something that they can do to make a positive impact in this world. She applies this empathetic approach to her lessons and it has paid off. Monique led a pilot Cooking Matters course at the Dowd Center, teaching mothers and children to make easy and healthy meals with limited resources. Despite the fact that this class was many years ago, one mother of five recently saw Monique in the Community Kitchen and instantly remembered her. She shared her personal thoughts with Monique. "I remember everything you taught me—I still use that recipe, and the kids still remember you!"
Parents and children often recognize her outside of the classrooms. It is in moments like this that Monique understands the impact of simple recipes and kindness. The simplicity in some of these delicious recipes assure Monique and her team that participants will learn and remember how to prepare at least one healthy meal “and where there is one there will be another." Monique believes that everyone should have access to healthy foods and the ability to care for their loved ones. The community receives that concept and Local Matters’ participants soak up the lessons like sponges.
Monique has witnessed a lot over the past ten years and has high hopes for the years to come. She foresees Local Matters spreading its work to other large cities and beginning to impact Ohioans on a larger scale. She also has the desire to become more involved with the farm-to-school chain. For Columbus, she hopes for a time when there are no longer food deserts. She believes that we must hold ourselves accountable and continue to push for food access across our community and eventually our country. "It is extremely possible... It’s a big dream, but you have to dream big."
Monique’s life has changed drastically because of the organization. She feels like what she’s doing is not just a job but a way of life. What she does has given her the ability to impact the people in her community so they may have a better life and pass that on. Even with the success she has had with Local Matters, Monique shares, “I always feel like I haven’t done enough for Local Matters. I always feel like there’s more that I can do. More that WE can do. As soon as we get done with one thing, my mind is always trying to expand to another horizon as to where we can be, who we can be touching, how we can be more proactive, what more can we do.” Monique has hopes for a better Columbus, a better Ohio, a better nation. "One day, Local Matters will be global."