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Why a free grocery store in a school is just a part of Jasmine Crowe’s big plans

“If the food is there, we can give it away,” Ashley Summerall, Crowe’s executive assistant, said. “We really don’t want to put a barrier on food because we have plenty of it.”
Jasmine Crowe, in association with the rapper Gunna, opened a free grocery store in Ronald McNair Middle School where Gunna was once a student in Atlanta.  
Jasmine Crowe, in association with the rapper Gunna, opened a free grocery store in Ronald McNair Middle School where Gunna was once a student in Atlanta.  Courtesy Goodr

Jasmine Crowe, thinks we’re getting the fight against hunger wrong. 

“Hunger was not an issue of scarcity, but rather a matter of logistics,” said Crowe, founder of Goodr, which works to end hunger and reduce food waste. 

The Atlanta-based organization hosts free pop-up grocery stores where families and individuals can simply take what they need. But last month, Crowe took on an idea she’s had for a long time: opening free grocery stores in schools.

Goodr, in association with the rapper Gunna, opened a free grocery store in Ronald McNair Middle School in Atlanta. The middle school, where Gunna was once a student, is a Title I school located in downtown Atlanta. The store comes fully stocked with fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and all the conveniences of a regular grocery store. In addition, it offers reusable bags, toiletries, clothing and shoes, and serves about 80 families a week, at no cost to them. 

The new in-school grocery store at Ronald McNair Middle School in Atlanta.Courtesy Goodr

While the concept of an alternative grocer or “social supermarket” is new to the United States, the concept has been on the rise in Europe. Created as a way to aid fight hunger in Europe, social supermarkets are described as “surplus products that are supplied free of charge by retailing and manufacturing companies,” according to Project SSM In Europe. 

In her 2019 TED Talk, “What we’re getting wrong in the fight to end hunger,” Crowe mentioned Denmark’s Wefood, which opened in 2016 as an alternative grocer. Unlike some of Europe’s other social supermarkets that restrict patrons by income, WeFood is aimed at the general public. Like other social supermarkets, the food comes from vendors with surplus resources. 

Through volunteering with food banks, Crowe said she quickly realized that “there was a big difference in this country between access to food and access to meals, and that most food things like food giveaways, we’re just giving people a lot of food that didn’t marry together, and didn’t actually make them a meal.”

She wanted to fully step into the fight to end hunger. With this mindset, in 2013, she started doing Sunday Soul, in which each Sunday she fed hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in downtown Atlanta.

“It just happened as simply as me driving through downtown seeing hundreds of people that were experiencing homelessness, and just decided that I wanted to do something to help,” Crowe told NBC News. “And so that happened in 2013. I went home, I put something on Facebook that I was going to start this feeding initiative. I was going to be doing it on Sundays. And I did it on that first Sunday. It just changed my life and I started doing it every single week after.” 

She made all the food herself each week, offering four or five entrees and at least 10 side dishes. When she started this initiative, she financed it herself, sometimes on as little as $300. Serving lines would go on for hours and feed up to 500 people. 

Jasmine Crowe’s Sunday Soul gathering.Courtesy Goodr

“There were definitely times that I just thought, how am I going to keep doing this? I don’t have the money. I don’t have the funding. And somehow on our way was always made.”

Eventually, supporters gave donations to ease the burden. Recipients often told Crowe they’ve never been treated this way. One time, she and her volunteers even witnessed a couple celebrate getting married with their weekly meal. 

Serving the homeless community in downtown Atlanta encouraged her to look more into hunger and food waste, including among senior citizens. 

Those experiences led her to start Goodr in 2017 to connect businesses with nonprofits as a way to fight hunger and end food waste. Taking inspiration from food delivery apps, she created an app that allowed companies to itemize the excess food they have at the end of the business day, prepare it for donation, and have it picked up by a do-goodr (the title given to Goodr employees). The excess food is delivered to a nonprofit in Goodr’s extensive network. The motto of Goodr became “Feed more, waste less.”

Years into her work, the initiative started with Ronald McNair Middle School won’t be the last to fight hunger and food scarcity. Ashley Summerall, executive assistant to Jasmine Crowe, said that Goodr is in talks with another school in Mississippi to build another in-school grocery store. 

Summerall said the focus is currently on Title I schools or schools with a large population that are below the poverty level.

The vision is for there to be different tiers of in-school grocery stores, directly correlating to the needs of that particular school. 

Currently, there aren’t any rules over who can access the store. Families are just instructed to email the school with their list and a school official will walk with the student to the store. The store has a full-time general manager and is open five days a week during school hours. However, Goodr isn’t concerned about people taking advantage of the resources. 

Summerall likens the development of the free grocery store as an extension of the pop-up grocery stores that Goodr has been doing for years.

“Our deal is, if the food is there, we can give it away,” she said. “We really don’t want to put a barrier on food because we have plenty of it.”

In the coming years, Crowe plans on expanding Goodr into more markets across North America. In addition, the organization is working on a new app. This would connect those most in need with the organizations and nonprofits in Goodr’s networks to receive food.

“We want to actually build some technology that’s consumer facing so people can use our apps to actually find food, if they should need it,” Crowe said.

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