Locals to Know: Meet Monica Perez

Today’s Local to Know interview is sponsored by United Way of King County. United Way is working together with our neighbors towards a racially just community where people have homes, students graduate, and families are financially stable. This holiday season, we believe the good gets better when we give.

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Mexico and arrived in the United States with a vision to dedicate my life to advancing the rights and well-being of my comunidad. I have dedicated more than a decade of work toward the health needs of Latinx residents in different areas of Washington State, focusing on a wide range of community-based and environmental health programs including “JugandoBasketball por una Vida Saludable;” “Vida Valuable,’,  through healthy eating, exercise and mental health; “De Corazón” CPR Instructor; community farming at Marra Farms; Tenants Rights Consulting, food access coordinator; wage protections and mental health first aid.

In response to COVID-19, I founded the community-based grassroots group Conectoras Comunitarias Latinas de South King County, a leadership program aimed at effectively, respectfully, and intentionally harnessing the strengths of Latinx women to mitigate the impact of systemic racism on the lives of Latinx communities.

Now, here at Cultivate South Park/Urban Fresh Food Collective, my journey has been characterized by uncompromising respect, love, value for collaboration, and power-sharing with, and among las comunidades.

What does the Urban Fresh Food Collective do?

Our original mission was to increase access to healthy food in South Park by mobilizing our neighborhood’s resources, such as our farm, residents, businesses, and community members. Since 2019, we have raised awareness of the beneficial effects of healthy food on our physical and mental well-being. Statistics show that Latin American people occupied first place in diseases like diabetes, and for this reason, we are very committed to making a conscious effort to provide as many fresh food options as possible.

What are you hearing from the people you serve? 

The most common comments we receive from the people we serve are that they feel a sense of belonging when accessing our program, specifically citing the abundance of culturally relevant foods. Participants also self-reported feelings of love, respect, and security. Last Nov. 12, we celebrated Dia de los Muertos. We are so proud that on that day, all community members shined, vibrated, and shared their talents. It is proof that great things happen when food, love, and respect are around.

What’s a project you’re working on (big or small) and how can our readers help you with it?

We are currently preparing for our free holiday food distribution event on Thursday, Dec. 22. Each participating family in the neighborhood will receive a full box (40+lbs) of culturally appropriate groceries and a full box (40+lbs) with fresh produce and protein. In this event, we will also give away all the toys that we were able to get thanks to our collaboration with some local businesses.

Readers can always come to meet us in South Park to feel the love and experience the good intentions we put into every single effort. We believe that after a visit, readers will feel motivated to support in many ways like connecting us with more resources including money that keeps us serving without restrictions.

How has the United Way of King County supported your work?

United Way is a big supporter of our work. They’ve supported our food access program since 2020 with grant funding and connected us with their Home Grocery Delivery Program and Free Community Tax Preparation. United Way’s mission is aligned with ours and allows us to keep serving the community in a unique way. The dollars we received allowed us to share culturally relevant food with more than 400 families twice a week, guaranteeing fresh food to about 3,500+ individuals per month.

What are you looking forward to next year?

Next year, our vision is to continue to grow and to have a unique community store where low- or no-income people — parents, elders, houseless, and youth — can find fresh food any time, either pre-cooked-hot and ready-to-eat and/or to-go. All this also will bring opportunities for local and new food entrepreneurs, local farmers, and artists, supporting the idea that food is a human right and should be equally accessible to all.

Wax poetic for a minute and tell us: what brings you most alive about your community?

What brings me alive is the huge need for recognition of my “gente,” mis mujeres. In our long journey in favor of our rights being recognized, women have found more thorns than roses, which is why I strive to make visible the achievements and barriers (there are many of both), which is the case for Latinas in the United States. I was born with elements of service and don’t want to see my life left behind without creating or impacting a life.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?

It will be celebrated in peace and all the success of two uninterrupted work years since COVID-19 and dedicated to charging my energy with the full love of my son, who has to share his mama with a community that I am very committed to bringing up to the light and recognition because when communities are recognized, we all heal.

If you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?

Love and recognize yourself, and do things with purpose. We all deserve justice — if you have a privilege, put that privilege to the service for those who don’t have it until equity comes true.

By The Evergrey Creative Studio
The Evergrey Creative Studio helps clients big and small engage locals, through campaigns that use creative marketing, storytelling, events, and activations to build community, conversation, and impact.