In 2018, Marcus Harden-Givens was a founding member of the Overflow Health Alliance, which offers food, human resource development, financial literacy, medical and other programs to help low-income areas of northwest Jacksonville.
He later had another outreach idea.
“Marcus woke up one morning and said, ‘We need a grocery store,'” said Stephanie Burke, the nonprofit’s executive director. “It was that simple.”
On February 6th, a non-profit grocery store called Making Ends Meat opened on Moncrief Road with a wide variety of fresh meat, produce and other items. It was an oasis in a food wasteland, a community with limited access to affordable, healthy food.
The food comes from donations from the Feeding Northeast Florida Food Bank and purchases from Allianz, which hired 10 people who live in the area to work. The business is also backed by local residents who pay $ 10 a year for shopping privileges. People who are registered in the other Allianz programs shop for free.
“We are honored to be able to respond to calls for food insecurity and provide residents with a much-needed healthy diet option, especially during these challenging times,” said Harden-Givens.
The shortage of grocers in northwest Jacksonville has long been a problem, aiming to provide them with a delicate mix of demographics, population density, traffic figures, and financial incentives, among other things.
Other parts of the city are also struggling with food deserts. In 2019, the city of Baldwin filled the void by opening a rare, local government-run grocery store.
The Baldwin Market delivered produce, meat, and household items so it didn’t take a 15- or 20-minute drive to Jacksonville. And last year, the store kept residents’ closets in stock as the pandemic kept many residents at home, city officials said.
The alliance was founded as an HIV clinic by Harden-Givens, now Chief Operating Officer, and husband Joshua Harden-Givens, now CEO. But it “grew into a community resource center,” said Burke.
Programming was based on the needs of the community in problematic 32209 ZIP Code, which has a history of high crime rates, family poverty, infant and child deaths, teenage pregnancies, and unemployment. All of these needs were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which, in addition to illness and death, has resulted in job and income losses, as well as isolated seniors and other vulnerable residents.
“We recognize that some people who have never had to seek help before may face difficulties,” said Marcus Harden-Givens. “We encourage families to get in touch … and see if they qualify for one of our services.”
With the pandemic, access to affordable, healthy food has become even more important. Fresh groceries are few and far between in northwest Jacksonville, and transportation to them has been a luxury many residents do not have.
“We thought it would be great to have a place … that you can reach,” he said.
The alliance already had food distributions where residents wait in line to receive boxes from the grocery bank, but a grocery store allows them to choose the foods they want.
“We wanted to strengthen the community and give them the shopping experience,” said Burke.
The alliance plans to replicate the Moncrief business model in other locations in northwest Jacksonville.
Making Ends Meat is located in Alderman Ju’Coby Pittman’s district. She said she knew about the shop but hadn’t visited it yet.
“It will be a great addition as many of the community’s residents go to convenience stores [for food]”, She said.” I think convenience stores and this grocery store will complement each other. “
One offers a quick option, the other provides fresh food and more choices, she said.
Small, “resident-to-go” businesses like these are also key to revitalizing northwest Jacksonville and offering residents the same quality of life as other areas, she said.
“This will check off the differences,” said Pittman.
Susan King, President and CEO of Feeding Northeast Florida, said the food bank had been providing donated items for the Overflow Health Alliance’s food distributions since March 2020.
Allianz “is a great partner agency of ours,” she said. “You serve a very needy community and we are grateful for your continued partnership.”
Also in 2020, the food bank received a grant from the national organization Feeding America to buy “freezers” and awarded one of them to Allianz.
“The delivery of this freezer ensures that they can continue to help meet the immediate needs of the people in their backyard,” she said.
Beth Reese Cravey: [email protected]
OVERFLOW HEALTH BOND
Making Ends Meat is open Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm at 4220 Moncrief Road, Jacksonville. Allianz also offers a soup kitchen on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at their Overflow Cafe, 3816 Moncrief Road, Suite 101, in Jacksonville, and Sunday services at 3 p.m. in the same location.
To donate, go to overflowhealthalliance.org or its cash app, $ overflowjax.
For more information on Alliance programs, please contact (904) 503-2404, email [email protected], or overflowhealthalliance.org.