Uptown Grand Central: NYC Food Based Community Organization Spotlight

by Alexina Cather, MPH

What they do: Uptown Grand Central is a collaboration of small businesses and neighborhood partners along East 125th Street & Park Avenue who work to enrich the area through creative community projects. 

How they do it: Since 2013, when we got our start as the New Harlem East Merchants Association, we have brightened hopes for the area via programs that include organizing our small businesses; hiring formerly homeless individuals to clean our streets; beautifying the commercial corridor with tree fences, flowers and holiday lights; sponsoring street festivals; and adopting the space underneath the Metro-North tracks at 125th & Park as a community plaza. On weekdays in the spring, summer and fall, we program the plaza with live music, exercise classes and a mobile library. All year long, the plaza is home to a Fresh Food Box farmers market, plus a Pop-Up Snack Shop that features healthy menu items from our local small businesses.


Mission: Our goal is to strengthen and promote everything that makes our part of Uptown a “Grand” place to be — for all who live and work here.

Latest project/campaign: Our second annual Uptown Restaurant Week is running through February 10 and highlights the offerings of our local restaurants and cafes! People say there’s nothing healthy to eat in East Harlem, but that’s not true: Our neighborhood has had strong Caribbean vegetarian representation for two decades now, at JahlookovaUptown Veg and Sister’s Cuisine — small businesses that feature items ranging from spinach and ackee patties, to mango and soursop juice, to veggie-stuffed “bakes.” You can also find plenty of healthy offerings at our other participating restaurants, including Wild Olive MarketUGCeatsCharlie’s Place SushiCrepe MasterSprinkle SplashLady LexisEl PatioHarlem Art Cafe and Hot Bread Kitchen.



Major Funding: NYC Department of Transportation, NYC Department of Small Business Services, NYC Economic Development Corporation, Harlem Community Development Corporation, Partnership for a Healthier Manhattan, City Council District 9, Manhattan Borough President’s Office, area property owners and residents like you

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit 501c3. We got our start as a nonprofit 501c6 (merchants association) but now have changed status to become a 501c3 (Uptown Grand Central) to better reflect our structure and scope.

Annual budget: $250,000

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: When we started the Fresh Food Box program at our community plaza in 2015, we had at most 20 participants. As of December 2016, we are up to 150 families per week!


Location: We run the community plaza underneath the Metro-North tracks at 125th Street & Park Avenue. Our program focuses along both the East 125th Street and Park Avenue corridors.

Core Programs:

  • Programming at our community plaza, plus neighborhood-wide festivals including Weekend Walks and the Big Apple Crunch
  • Cleaning, greening & public art
  • Small business support
  • Advocacy for our neighborhood

Number of staff: Three

Number of volunteers: Ten hardcore regulars

Areas served: East Harlem, with a focus on the East 125th Street and Park Avenue corridors and the community plaza underneath the Metro-North tracks at 125th and Park Avenue.

Date started: 2013

Director: Carey King

Contact information:





Photo credit: Carey King

Related Articles

Subscribe To Weekly NYC Food Policy Watch Newsletter
Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter today to receive updates on the latest news, reports and event information
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.