By Anthony Cook
Ejella Gardner lives in Ensley about 10 minutes from the Tom Brown Village apartments in east Birmingham. She says it is possible to get to healthy food, but it takes a lot of effort, especially for someone who’s older and is trying to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19.
“A lot of places you go, they don’t wear masks; they cough and don’t cover their mouth, so I try to stay in as much as I can,” she said.
Getting to healthy food was a little easier for Gardner and others Friday as an outdoor pop-up grocery store was set up between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the heart of Tom Brown Village.
“I think it’s wonderful that you would come and that you would ask us to wear masks and socially distance,” Gardner said. “I appreciate that very much, so you’re taking care of us in more than one way. I appreciate the good food, the healthy food.”
The pop-up was the first of four in the Birmingham area, provided as part of a partnership between the Birmingham Housing Authority, Alabama Power Company, Alabama Power Foundation and Goodr, an Atlanta-based food recovery and distribution company.
The goal is to serve up to 1,000 Birmingham families experiencing food insecurity. The drive-up events will provide recipients with high-quality, locally sourced food. Families receive free groceries, including lean meats and seafood, vegan meat options, shelf stable items, eggs, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, beverages and more.
“Unfortunately, there are areas in Birmingham where families find it almost impossible to find healthy food,” said Monica McShan, a community relations manager for Alabama Power’s Birmingham Division. “At Alabama Power, we are focused on addressing these food deserts and making sure that our customers have access to healthy, high-quality, affordable food.”
This initiative follows Goodr’s partnership with Georgia Power – sister company to Alabama Power under the Southern Company umbrella.
Jasmine Crowe founded Goodr in 2017. Before that, she was feeding the homeless out of her apartment in Atlanta. A video of her work went viral on Facebook, and people asked who was donating the food.
“In reality, it was no one,” she said. “I was couponing, price-matching, just putting it all together to feed people. I really felt like hunger wasn’t being solved, it was being pacified.”
About a year ago, Goodr began working with Georgia Power, and Crowe recently decided it was time to expand into Birmingham where her partner lives, and she pitched the idea to Alabama Power and Alabama Power Foundation. Both responded with grants, allowing Goodr to provide 40,000 meals to the metro Birmingham community.
“We’re proud to partner with Goodr to sponsor these pop ups,” McShan said. “We’re very strategic in our partnerships. We want partners who have great leadership and execute the best results for our communities. Goodr exhibits those qualities, and their logistics expertise made them a great choice.”
Last week’s goal was to reach 200 families at the Tom Brown location. Pre-registration numbers were low, but accommodations were being made to reach more people.
“We have people on-site to help with registration as the word gets out,” McShan said. “We believe all the food will be given away before the event ends.”
Marsha Morgan, community initiatives project manager for Alabama Power Foundation, said the foundation believes in empowering and strengthening the communities it serves. “We believe efforts like this allow us to help build the people who reside within our communities and empower them and amplify the good that we as an organization can do.”
David A. Northern Sr., president and CEO of the Birmingham Housing Authority, was on hand last week helping with logistics, including assisting residents with carrying groceries.
“It’s a food desert over here, and there’s a number of shortages throughout the nation related to food, so this is something very important to the clients we serve – young people, elderly, disabled, all,” he said.
To choose the location of the pop-ups, Alabama Power officials determined the number they’d like to see served, and the Housing Authority identified the real food desert areas “to make sure we’re getting the most bang for the buck,” Northern said. “Having healthy nourishment for our people is something that’s needed, not just here in Tom Brown, but throughout our communities.”
“Feed More, Waste Less”
Goodr, whose motto is “feed more, waste less,” was launched in 2017 with the sole purpose of tackling our country’s hunger problem using technology and tactical logistics. Through activations such as these in cities across the nation, Goodr is responsible for the distribution of millions of meals across the U.S.
“We know more long-term solutions are needed,” McShan said. “We regularly work with our municipalities to determine how we can help make the quality of life better for the citizens of Alabama. It will take the collaborative work of various stakeholders to come up with that solution, but we’re committed to being a part of that effort.”
Goodr is launching its first mobile grocery store in January. It’s not a permanent location, but it will be able to drive to communities and make sure they have access to food.
“I think it’s more than just food stamps. It’s about meeting people where they are. A lot of people who have food insecurities also have transportation insecurity,” Crowe said. “We need more grocery stores in every area. No community should have to go without having access to healthy food, and I’m hoping that our mobile pantry will do that.”
In the meantime, pop-ups are scheduled for 4-6 p.m. Aug. 27 at Fairfield Civic Center and 3-5 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Birmingham Transit Authority Intermodal Facility.
Registration for the Intermodal Facility opens Sept. 6.
Click here to register.
Updated on 8/26/2021 at 9:52 a.m. to correct where Ms. Gardner lives and to add a link.