Food insecurity will be eliminated if Nick Owen and Mercy Robinson’s dream comes true
By Carol Masshardt
South Boston is exciting and desirable in well-known and new ways, and it is also a community with poverty, and this is where Nick and Mercy devote endless energy and heart. Nick, 23, is the Program Director for the Food Programs of Action for Boston Community Development, and his community partner, Mercy, 31, is the Executive Director of South Boston En Accion.
Coming from different backgrounds, they share a mindset about the importance of sound nutrition for all people. Although fun and interesting to plan for food distribution at different sites, in their ideal world their food “pop-ups” in South Boston would be unneeded rather than attracting old and young, and families of all compositions eager for food every time offered.
Nick, originally from Concord, Ma., son of a father in healthcare and attorney mother, decided on a “gap” year between high school and college and it is one that was driven by service. He arrived at ABCD during the pandemic in 2020, and that well-established and mission driven agency had the good judgement to get to know him and his work and before long offer a leadership role. His perspective is wise beyond age and provides the motivational spark to work as he does.
“I always had an interest in mitigating problems in the world,” he said. “I had enormous support for everything I wanted to do coming from where I did, and there is such inequity. I think about food in a basic way. We need it, we enjoy it, and it is central to health. Diabetes, hypertension, so many health issues are connected to food. This is where you see the inequities of the society.”
In the ABCD model, Nick is partnered with someone with closer knowledge of the community, and Mercy, the perfect match in integrity, grew up in and lives in South Boston, where she is raising three children.
When she hears Nick Owen’s passion, she doesn’t miss a beat and adds her beautifully articulated experience.
“The skyrocketing expenses are leading to people running out of food. Imagine only getting through part of the month even when you are trying hard? Basic assistance or earnings just don’t stretch, and people need healthy food. That’s what’s different about the pop-ups. Nick supplied bok choy last week, and there were fresh vegetables and fruit, fish, chicken and things that make sense for the culture of families in Mary Ellen McCormack and Old Colony. It brings the food where the people are and that is part of why it works, too. You can see how people respond,” she said.
Since graduating from the Boston Public School, Snowden International, and getting an associate degree at Quincy College, Mercy Robinson observes and engages with the community she knows best.
“I worry that we won’t have real stakeholders here,” she said. The proud daughter of a father who drives Uber, and mother who works as a community teacher following an in-home daycare program, Mercy grew up in what she describes as “projects but now called developments.”
She also has an intrinsic sense of the connection of food, transportation, healthcare, education and opportunity. “It becomes impossible for some people to stay here, and that leads to a less committed community,” she said. Her observations hold no venom for “new” people but concern about affordability and investment in all.
“I will say that my greatest satisfaction is seeing people have what they need to meet their goals. What I do is listen and I hear, and I see what it takes for families to get on a better track. I see people wanting to help each other and at the “Pop-ups” people call their neighbors and its community, and they get connected in good ways,” she said. “it concerns me that there is a divide between the affluent and not, and it is just so hard for many people,” she said.
“In the short run, I want the program to work well, to get people what the need and can use, and to do it with respect. The pop-ups are fun, but they shouldn’t be necessary. Success would be when these needs were well met for everyone without programs,” said Nick. He is now a student at Boston College Woods Program (“It gives me the flexibility to work in something that’s important”) as Mercy works purposefully while guiding her children toward the best possible options and thinks about her community and where she can have most impact.
“I love my job, and non-profit work, and it all started when I was in a teacher prep program right here at ABCD, and one thing led to the next,” Mercy said reflecting on her own journey.
Mercy Robinson and Nick Owen are intent on change with respect and looking at each family and the systemic issues that lead to the need for the food “pop-ups.” They could also use some volunteer help and anyone lucky enough to work alongside these two might start to learn about need and resilience of neighbors they didn’t know.
They listen to each other, learn together and though the future for each is evolving, it may just be possible that they are already changing the world.
Carol Masshardt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org