“Making healthy food accessible” is perhaps the most fundamental of Weaver Street Market’s 2020 Goals. We pursue this goal as a food retailer. Healthy food continually flows in and out of our three stores and food house. Yet there is another segment of our community that does not have access to sufficient, nutritious food for their daily needs. In Orange County, an estimated 20,900 individuals are food insecure, and the lack of access is primarily due to insufficient income rather than availability. For families who live below or at the poverty level, a missed day’s work to stay home with a sick child or simple car repairs can deplete precious funds needed for food and rent.
Local hunger-relief organizations work in our communities to provide food for families faced with ongoing or emergency threats of hunger. In 2015, WSM made a commitment to expand our healthy food focus to include the food insecure. The first step was to form the Community Food Partnerships. Through this program we are partnering with four local hunger-relief organizations—PORCH, TABLE, Orange Congregations in Mission (OCIM), and Interfaith Council for Social Services (IFC)—to develop year-round access to healthy food for those in need in our communities.
Our simplest contribution would be to place food collection bins in each store where shoppers could drop off canned and packaged goods. We have a vision of making a greater impact, one that connects all the interrelated elements at play in this important opportunity:
• The needs of our hunger-relief partners and the unique logistics involved in their work
• The nutritional needs of the families they serve
• The value our shoppers and owners place on healthy natural foods
• Our unique position in the community as a food hub and community center
• The willingness and ability of our shoppers and owners to donate to these programs
For 2015, we are hosting a food campaign each quarter. The first two have been immensely successful, with more than $30,000 collected for each campaign. (Read about the two campaigns below.) With each campaign and subsequent delivery of the food, we are learning more about how we can connect more of the pieces to create an even greater impact on hunger. Our happiest surprise is the willingness of so many co-op owners, shoppers, and staff to contribute to these efforts. Our two campaigns generated more than 6,000 donations and 390 volunteer hours. As Board Director Linda Stier observed, our food partnership is successful because “it’s rooted in community.”
PORCH “bag of produce” campaign
PORCH is an all-volunteer grassroots organization that raises about $20,000 each month through its monthly food drives in 150 participating neighborhoods in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Our PORCH campaign supported the organization’s Food for Families program. Once a month PORCH delivers bags of pantry items and fresh food to 270 families identified as living in extreme poverty in our community.
Our campaign focused on where we could make the most impact—providing fresh produce and eggs. We asked shoppers to donate bags of fresh produce for $30 a bag, and we offered half bags for $15 and quarter bags for $7.50. We set a very ambitious goal of 1,000 bags of fresh produce or $30,000 in donations. The results were astonishing—in two weeks our shoppers donated almost $32,000. We believe the campaign was such a huge success because we offered a donation that resonated with WSM shoppers: bags of natural and organic produce—enough vegetables, fruits, and eggs to feed a family for a week.
With our buying power, we were able to turn the $30 bags of produce into boxes filled with 35 to 40 pounds of fresh produce. PORCH opted to receive the donations over a 10-month period and selected the 100 refugee families in its Food for Families program as the recipients.
An important new piece of the partnership emerged as we explored the most efficient ways to purchase and deliver the produce. We discovered that we could help PORCH by buying and storing the purchased food at our Food House facility, holding a volunteer-based food sort with PORCH at our Food House facility, and delivering the boxes of food directly to the PORCH pickup sites.
Because of the donations our shoppers made, PORCH has been able to increase the number of families they serve and to provide additional sources of nutrition in the monthly food distributions, including whole chickens and bags of rice.
We have delivered boxes of food for the PORCH refugee families for six months, and we will continue through November. We will hold our second PORCH campaign next January, and our intent is to reach enough donations to provide a full year’s support for the refugee families.
TABLE “backpacks of healthy food for kids” campaign
TABLE provides healthy food to hungry children in preschool, elementary school, and middle school, primarily through its Weekend Meal Backpack program. TABLE relies year-round on community support to provide food for 350 to 400 children during the school year and on school breaks. Their goal is to provide weekend food for 500 kids by the end of the year.
Our TABLE campaign asked shoppers and owners to donate healthy food for TABLE’s Summer Program, which provides weekend food for 200 to 350 kids for 8 weeks of the summer break when kids do not have access to free school meals. We asked shoppers to donate backpacks of healthy kid-friendly food, including non-perishables, fresh fruit and vegetables, shelf-stable milk, and freshly baked WSM oat bread. Our shoppers met our goal of food for 2,100 backpacks, and by finessing our buying power, we were able to provide food for all 2,800 backpacks.
As with the PORCH campaign, we discovered that a significant contribution we can make is ordering, receiving, and delivering the food products to TABLE. TABLE has a regular group of volunteers who sort, bag, and deliver the bags of food to the kids at camps and summer school.
WSM hosted two community food sorts on the patio of our Carrboro store so that our shoppers and owners could see the food purchased with their donations and help with sorting and bagging the food. The train of volunteers pushing grocery carts of food down Weaver Street to TABLE showcased the community roots of our new food partnership.
Over the 8 weeks of Summer Table, we delivered 8 pounds of healthy food for 2021 backpacks. Because the projected number of 2,800 backpacks of food was not needed, we’ll continue to provide healthy food for the backpacks when TABLE starts its school-year program late August. We will host a second food campaign for Summer TABLE next May, and we intend to help them reach 500 kids next summer.