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June 14, 2024 10 mins
I speak to Bonnie Earl, who received the WDAS FM Women of Excellence Sheroe Award for her work in the community especially around hunger.  She brought to my attention a potentially transformative program to create "corner stores" that carry healthy food, the space to prepare it, workforce development training -  that will also serve as a community Hub.  I speak to Alex Imbot, co-founder and CEO of The Community Grocer and Bonnie.
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Episode Transcript

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Good morning, and welcome to Insight, a show about empowering our community.
I'm Lorraine Ballad Morrel. We're goingto focus on health today, especially in
light of the upcoming Destruct Breast CancerWalk. We'll be speaking with Penn Medicine
about what Black women need to knowabout breast cancer, and we're talking with
the American Association for Cancer Research abouthealth disparities when it comes to cancer diagnoses

and treatment for communities of color.First, I speak to good friend Bonnie
Earl, who we recently honored atthe wdas Woman of Excellence luncheon, and
a person she brought to my attentionalex Imbot, who's creating a transformational program
to address hunger, food insecurity,and food deserts. Our real problem in
the city of Philadelphia was such ahigh rate of poverty. Well, there

is a very cool project that isunderway to do something about that, to
create the nutrition of our dreams,and that is the Community Grosser or TCG
at sixties Street in West Philadelphia isin the process of building a brick and
mortar building, but in the meantimehave been providing fresh produce and other healthy

foods for the West Philadelphia neighborhood.Also joining us is my personal queen,
Bonnie Earl. She is an advisorand supporter, and so I'm going to
start actually with Bonnie, because Bonnie'sthe one who brought this to my attention.
Tell us what is your relationship withthis program? Well, first of
all, naturally, Alex, whichis the CEO, is into food helping

people. So it came through theGreat Family Gathering, right, Great Family
Gathering being the wonderful event that wesupport every year around Thanksgiving that provides Thanksgiving
dinner, really really wonderful one plusa lot of other stuff to homeless folks,
and we're so proud to be apart of that. In Bonnie,
you are, of course the heartand soul of that. So let's talk

to Alex Imbodi's CEO of TCG.How did you guys get started and what
are you doing now and what areyou evolving into? Absolutely, thank you
so much for having us. ACommunity Grocer or TCG is an all hands
on deck reinvention of the corner storeand we're really working together with all of
our neighbors in Cobbs Creek and inGray's Ferry and Point Breeze as well as

we set sites on what do wewish we had access to within walking distance
in terms of food, and howcan we make sure that there's a way
that every neighborhood across the city canhave access to the ingredients that they're looking
for. Alex, what was yourinspiration for getting this started? Yeah,
So our works started at the cornerof thirtieth and More down in Gray's Ferry,
distributing these COVID food boxes along withAnton Moore and Unity in the Community

and mister Charles Reeves and the ResidentAction Committee, And we were standing on
the corner every Monday, and itwas winter and it was cold, and
the government was dropping off these bigboxes of food and none of them added
up to a recipe, and forso many of our neighbors, it was
a challenge to really, what werewe going to do with these ingredients?
You know, a big bag ofonions and apples and chicken, you know,
but actually transform them into a meala lot harder than just dropping off

boxes on a corner. And itwas there that we set our sights on
reinventing the corner store that if thebuses weren't coming and the grocery store was
too far away, but we hadone of the four thousand corner stores in
Philly right there within walking distance.Why not turn that kind of fifteen hundred
square feet or retail that small cornerstore into a place within walking distance that

has a fresh supply of ingredients,but in a way that makes sense.
And so the core of what TCGis doing is ensuring that every neighborhood can
have a persistent supply of farm freshingredients as well as the pathways needed to
transform them into a meal. Andso the store instead of a traditional corner
store of just chips and soda andmaybe some hogies in the back, it's

an all day menu of smoothies andbreakfast sandwiches and dinner platters and family platters.
But it's sold as an itemized listof ingredients. You can just go
in there and grab the number four. But it's in the refrigerator and it's
a chicken breast and an onion andtomato in there, and that makes the
entire menu snap and wick eligible.But understanding that in deep conversation with our
neighbors, not all of us havethe full kitchen equipment or the time to

be cooking all the time. Sowhy not ensure a way to transform those
recipe kits into something that's hot andready. And what that looks like is
having a full culinary program workforce developmentopportunity on the back half of the building
where there's a commercial kitchen where ourneighbors are able to join and sign up
and take twelve week curriculum and gettheir serve safes and help transform those meals

into ones that are hot and readyand so that you can leave with dinner
even though you were able to useyour Snap benefits for it, which is
something that's never actually been done beforein this country. Bonnie, you've been
observing all of this evolving. Giveus your impressions of this project and what's
been happening with it. I thinkit is moving along very swiftly. And

what I look at is because Icome from the healthcare industry, and yes,
food and securities and people not beingable to get the proper few or
even on the side that I workedon, you can have boxes of food
that even make a meal, butthey don't have the utilities at home to
fix it. So now with TCG, there's an area where they can purchase

the fresh food and then take itin another area and it's cooked and prepared
for them, so they leave withhot food. I think it is something
that is definitely needed. And whenyou look at it, you look at
diabetes, heart condition, all thesedifferent diseases. A lot of this is
because of improper nutrition. Well,I know that Alex, you guys are

in the process of building a brickand mortar building an actual physical corner store.
In the meantime, what's happening.How can people take advantage of this
program? Absolutely so. TCG isa nonprofit organization and as we are on
a mission to make eating well easier. So much of that comes from being

able to listen with all of ourneighbors and create creating the spaces and the
invitations across generations for neighbors to participatein establishing the menu and what they want
from their store, so that aswe prove it on Sixtieth Street that this
mission that everybody can have access tofresh ingredients. We're looking at the rest
of the city too, and sowe're creating these resident action committees where neighbors

can join and contribute expertise in theirpersonal experience to help us create this dream
access to food. And so youcan go to our website, the communitygrocer
dot org and sign up and joinconversations, whether it's around youth engagement,
caring for our seniors, planting trees. How do we want to steward our

neighborhoods to make them the places thatwe really want to stay and live in?
And how can food be the pillarof that and center retail access to
nutrition as a new piece of publicinfrastructure. And so it's interesting. Once
our store is built, the upstairswill be a full community space with a
thirty person meeting room and a fifteenperson meeting room and different phone booths so
that different organizations from across the cityyou can come in and host their programming

there for free upstairs. Well,Bonnie, Yeah, and there's something else
too in building this building. Youdo know that there are things that are
needed. There is an area ontheir website where people can donate. No
amount is too small. But whatwe want to do is get this up

and running so that it can benefitthe people. And you know, like
I'm always telling Alex, I thinkI started off the first donation myself because
I never asked anybody to do anythingwithout me doing it first. We would
gladly take donations. You will geta receipt for every dime that you donate.

And Alex, if people would liketo be a part of this program,
what's your website and give us moreof the details. Absolutely, yes.
So the website is thecommunitygrocer dot org. You can find us on Instagram
at the Community Grosser Facebook as well. And one of the most exciting things
about all of this is as wepioneer know what's required so that we can
get farm fresh ingredients to all ofour neighborhoods, and we're working with farmers

of color and black farmers here inthe Commonwealth, that we not only as
Philly and Pennsylvania, get to proveit to the whole country that this is
what we want from our food systemand that we have the opportunity to make
it so from our smoothies and ourdinner platters and our family platters, that
this is from within, this isPhilly, and it's all eyes on us
as we build this first one andcontinue to see the success of fresh food

well. I love that that iskind of a lynchpin for community development.
That it starts with food, itstarts with the meal, and that's what
the community. Grosser is all aboutTHCG at sixties Street in West Phillies,
where this brick and mortar building,a reinvention of the corner store, working
with neighbors to achieve nutrition, thenutrition of our dreams. Bonnie Earl,

I give you the last word.Well, I would just like to say
food is medicine. Food is medicine, and if you can get the proper
food into people, maybe it willdecrease No, I know it will decrease
this diabetes and all this medicine they'retaking heart conditions and people are more healthier.

This is not just Alex or I'mgoing to say Eli as well dream,
but it should be the dream ofall of us that we live together
and live healthy and longer. SoI would like to thank you, Lorraine,
because you're always there. You're alwaysthere, and for anybody that wants
to donate, please do so.We'd appreciate it. Thank you. Well,

I have to say that meeting well, I know you, Bonnie,
Bonnie, you always lift me up, but meeting a young man like Alex
Imbot gives me hope for the future. That's right, Yeah, this is
great. This is really what itis about making a difference in our community
and this it starts with food.The Community Grocer TCG is evolving at sixty

Street in West Philly. Alex Imbot, Bonnie Earl, thank you both.
Thank you. We'll have more insightafter these messages.
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