GREENVILLE, N.C (WNCT) — Imagine this, you get a box of food delivered, but it isn’t food you’re used to, and you aren’t sure how to cook it for your family.

That’s how many LatinX communities were feeling here in Eastern North Carolina. Thanks to partnerships with the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, that’s not the case not anymore.

During the pandemic, the food bank noticed many of the Hispanic population stopped utilizing the organization’s distribution boxes. Through partnerships with organizations like AMEXCAN, NC Field, farm laborers and other agencies, they began going out into the community to find out why.

“They were really looking for the fresh produce. And so, for us, it was a very steep learning curve as to what was going to be needed and appreciated,” says Gideon Adama, VP of Community Health and Engagement for the food bank. “It’s a slow process, but building that trust, building enough trust for that population to actually communicate their needs to us directly.”

That’s where groups like AMEXCAN stepped in.

“We found out that a lot of these canned foods and these goods, they’re not typical food that Latino community consumes,” says AMEXCAN Executive Director Juvencio Rocha Peralta. His organization assisted with community assessments for the Food Bank and found many of the foods being offered at the food bank weren’t familiar, or culturally meaningful to these populations.

Adams said they didn’t want to assume what the LatinX populations wanted, so they found that straying away from pre-made boxes was the best way to encompass the idea of client choice while keeping a sense of dignity as well.

“What we’ll do is we’ll send down a pallet of tortillas, a pallet of rice, a pallet of beans, the various sauces, and spicy ingredients that have been requested and do it rather like a sort of a farmer’s market type setup so that the bags or boxes are made up on the spot for individuals to come through. We’re talking about distributions for anywhere between three and 600 families.”

Gideon Adams, VP of Community Health and Engagement

Food box options for LatinX families can include rice, varying dried bean options, tortillas, fresh vegetables, Maseca, sauces like Mole sauce, spices and canned meats, among other things that might be available.

Juvencio Rocha Peralta says this is a great opportunity for the food bank to explore a new consumer market with various new products. He says many of the LatinX population will travel to other cities, towns and regions where they have more of a market for these products. He believes this is an important time for the food bank to diversify the products they offer to the community and recognize culturally appropriate foods.

“I really think it goes back to where a lot of these Latin Americans come from is that the average foods, the average consumers, they have, the food they prepare for the families, you know, is very easy to prepare, but also there’s that custom that they grew up with. And I think it makes us have pride.”

Juvencio Rocha Peralta, Executive Director of AMEXCAN