Food Co-op thriving months after opening doorsA young single mother from the Bedford-Pines community speaks w attendees about the struggles she faces each month in feeding her familly. This photo was taken during a December 2013 stakeholder meeting and provided to Decaturish.
By Kim Hutcherson, contributor
It’s been four months since the Boulevard Food Co-op formally opened its doors and made its first food distribution to member-owners. So far, it’s not only a rousing success, but also a “star” among those who work on food access issues.
“We are receiving significant support and generating a lot of interest from the community,” organizer Sara Thorpe told Decaturish. “We’re constantly meeting people and hearing from people, especially in the local food movement and the whole food movement. We’re definitely feeling a lot of energy from those two groups in Atlanta. We get emails from people wanting to meet up and wanting to know about our experiences and how it can fit into their projects.”
In February, the Co-op received a $10,000 check from Wingate Companies, which owns Bedford Pines, where most of the members live. Organizers and members want to use that money to expand operations. They are in the process of recruiting an additional 15 families, doubling the number of families the Co-op serves.
The accolades aren’t just monetary. The Center for Civic Innovation selected the Co-Op for a Capacity Building Grant. The Atlanta Local Food Initiative selected the Co-Op for an initiative to plant fruit trees in the neighborhood. Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health has chosen it for a semester-long data gathering activity. Georgia Tech may include it in a summer project aimed at gathering information about how the best ways to provide healthy food to low-income neighborhood residents.
The Co-op will also be the main feature at an Americorps Vista event later this month, celebrating that organization’s 50th anniversary.
“They’ve asked us to feature the Co-op as a model of helping hunger in the community,” Thorpe said. “They see us as a model of something you can get up and rolling quickly in the community that meets peoples’ needs. So they’re going to highlight us as a case study.”
District 2 Councilperson Kwanza Hall said he couldn’t be more pleased with the success. He provided support during the organizational phase, and the idea for the Co-op emerged from his “Year of Boulevard” initiative.
“It’s been a great first four months,” he said. “We’re excited that, thanks to our partners, we will be doubling the number of member families this spring.
“This is not a food pantry,” Hall added. “Members unload the food, pay a nominal fee at each distribution, distribute it among themselves, and spend time together for cooking lessons and educational programming. This is community building. It’s humbling and very gratifying.”
Members are co-owners, paying a one-time $5 fee to join, along with another $3 every two weeks when food is distributed. They organize and run the distribution, dividing and packing food, as well as managing accounts.
Members get about 40 pounds of food every two weeks. The Atlanta Community Food Bank contributes canned and packaged foods. Co-op members also get fresh produce from Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture.
On March 27th and 28th, the Co-op will be the focus of the Americorps Vista 50th Anniversary Celebration in Atlanta. Organizers are planning a two-day event – the Food Access For All Community Summit and a 5K Fun Run/Walk.
The Food Access Summit will be held March 27th at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. Participants will learn about ways to end hunger and build community. On the 28th, there’s a fun run/walk with a twist. Participants will start at the Truly Living Well’s Wheat Street Garden. From there, they’ll walk to the Whole Foods Market, collect 10 pounds of groceries (the equivalent of three meals), and carry the food back to the garden.
The point of this exercise is to raise awareness about what it’s like to live in a “food desert,” an area that doesn’t have enough grocery stores. The bags of groceries will be distributed to agencies in the Old Fourth Ward.