In a small town like Bridgehampton, working together toward a common goal is key to ensuring that everyone in the community can thrive. Over the last year and a half, as food insecurity has spiked and remained high because of the pandemic, individuals from four different groups illustrated the powerful impact a collaborative effort can have.
For the past few months, yoga teacher and chef Corey De Rosa has been donating hot lunches to the food pantry at the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, which saw a huge increase in need in recent months. The lunches are not only hot and fresh, but healthy, and provide an opportunity for recipients to try something new. De Rosa is the creator of Tapovana Lunch Box, making and selling what he describes as “artisanal South Indian cuisine” based on Ayurvedic principles of health and longevity. A recent daily lunch box featured butternut squash palya, a meal prepared with sautéed red peppers, coconut, and curry leaves. There was also a Toor Dal soup, made with pureed split yellow peas, black pepper, cumin and tomato; Puliyogare, traditional South Indian tamarind rice with roasted peanuts and a 15-spice blend; and apple pear chutney.
De Rosa has made a business out of selling the food locally, offering pick up and delivery service, but his desire to make the food available at the food pantry is a reflection not only of his desire to help the community, but the larger philosophy he subscribes to when it comes to the principles of Ayurvedic eating and food preparation.
“The main reason for everything that Tapovana offers is based on the ancient, oldest ‘vedic’ philosophical idea that we are born to serve each other,” De Rosa explained. “This idea of service holds families, communities, nations and hopefully one day, the world together.
“Ayurvedic food is very special, because it not only nourishes us, but it also improves the way the body and mind work, due to its structured food combinations and flavors,” he added. “It says that when digestion is working perfectly, through Ayurveda, so is every function of the body, which leads to a very strong, impervious immune system, and a happy healthy mind.”
De Rosa said the reason he has been motivated to make those kinds of meals available to the food pantry is two-fold.
“Like many of us, [food pantry recipients] would probably not think to eat this way on their own,” he said. “They have most likely not been exposed to this information. And it’s highly specialized with top quality ingredients, so most people would probably not be able to afford it.”
Running a food operation, especially for a new business, can be challenging, but when other stakeholders in the Bridgehampton community learned about what De Rosa wanted to do, they were ready to help. The Bridgehampton Community House has become De Rosa’s home base, and he’s benefitted from a recent full renovation of the kitchen there. While the Community House paid for the renovation, De Rosa oversaw the process, which Community House President Lillian Tyree said was extremely helpful.
“It would not have gotten done the way it did without him,” she said. “Corey has been a real delight to work with.”
Another key supporter of De Rosa’s effort has been the Bridgehampton Lions Club and President John Battle. When he learned of De Rosa’s mission, Battle and the Lion’s Club provided him with a $6,000 grant. That money has helped De Rosa give away more than 2,600 meals in the last year for families in need.
And the need certainly has been there. Before the pandemic, the food pantry at the child care center—which has been overseen by 81-year-old Gloria Cannon for years—was serving about 70 families weekly, around 200 individuals. That number shot up to anywhere from 600 to 700 individuals weekly once the pandemic started.
Other local farms and food organizations have helped food pantries in the area during the crisis, but Bonnie Cannon said that the unique way several different local organizations banded together in this instance is special.
“It’s a testament to what can happen when the community comes together of one accord for the same purpose,” she said. “It’s also a testament that we’re better together versus being separate.”
Cannon pointed out that Tyree-Johnson and Battle initially fostered the partnership with De Rosa and Tapovana Lunch Box by reaching out to her.
“They said, ‘We’ve got this guy here who is starting his own business and wants to expand, and the food is really good and healthy, and this is something you can possibly utilize at the center,’” Cannon explained. “We’ve had other businesses come and say they want to give us hot food, but this was a young man and entrepreneur trying to build his business.”
Cannon admitted that she was hesitant at first that the center would be able to properly store the lunches, but she said it has been easier than she anticipated to sort out the logistics of taking in the lunches and getting them to families.
It’s worked out lovely,” she said. “And the families love it. His food is really good, and it’s a different kind of cuisine. We’re all about culture and diversity, and trying something new. It’s been a great match.
Seeing every entity involved benefit from the partnership has been encouraging for Cannon, and she hopes it leads to similar collaborations with the kind of mutual benefits for all involved in this project.
“It’s worked out well, and thank God not only for him, but for John Battle and the Lions’ Club, and the community center for opening their doors to him to produce the product,” she said. “We need more of those types of efforts to give entrepreneurs a chance. There’s so much talent out here that we don’t even know about.”