A Mount Airy couple is helping neighborhood residents access fresh produce without visiting the grocery store.
Jessica Rights, her husband, Nicholas Freeman, and volunteers pack more than 30 cardboard boxes in a van twice a week; each box filled with an assortment of 20 fresh fruits and vegetables, a pint of rice, dairy and eggs, or tofu for vegan families.
The $25 fresh produce boxes are part of the Mount Airy Groceries initiative, which grew because neighbors weren’t having luck with grocery store delivery or shopping apps like Instacart. “One day a lot of my neighbors were saying that they’re orders for food were two and sometimes even three weeks out,” Rights said, “and one of my neighbors was upset because she waited two weeks for groceries.”
According to the Food & Drug Administration, there are no nationwide food shortages, but it is common to find grocery stores temporarily out of items because of the pandemic. Grocery shopping has become a hassle for some residents in Mount Airy, according to Rights.
In response, Rights collected money from close neighbors’ equaling a few hundred dollars. She bought wholesale produce, skipping the grocery store altogether.
After her neighbors received their food, they asked her to do it again. Rights and Freeman connected with her friend George Drakopoulos, owner of Cafe Malelani in Mount Airy, to use his space to pack produce boxes. Drakopoulos connected her with other low-cost food distributors, including North Philadelphia’s Restaurant Depot, just south of Germantown.
“When you shop there, you buy in bulk,” Drakopoulos said. “You get it cheaper and you get restaurant quality at restaurant prices. You don’t need a ton of memberships, you just need a tax ID [number] so it kind of saved us money.”
Aside from purchasing produce boxes, neighbors can also donate a box on the organization website. Rights is approached by neighbors who can’t always afford the boxes. She said that even people who are receiving donated food are not getting fresh produce.
“I mean, they’re getting food and it’s sustaining them,” Rights said, “but it’s not always the kind of stuff that’s healthy for you.”
Several organizations purchase or receive box donations for their programs. For example, Samantha Siegel purchases boxes for her mini food pantry on Rittenhouse Street in Germantown and 70 boxes are donated to Interfaith Hospitality Networks weekly.