Instead of chips and soda, the new-concept corner store will be stocked with nutritious, affordable food.
A couple of University of Pennsylvania graduates have come up with a new kind of corner store after learning SNAP recipients do not have access to hot food. Alexandre Imbot, 25, and Eli Moraru, 23, are co-founders of The Community Grocer, a nonprofit food justice organization. The project will provide Cobbs Creek residents with fresh food options instead of the usual processed foods. Moraru won the President's Sustainability Prize from the university's former Interim President Wendell Pritchett in 2022. With university funds and support from the local community, the duo's Cobbs Creek storefront is expected to open in 10 months. It will be located at the intersection of 60th Street and Walton Avenue, reports The Daily Pennsylvanian.
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The recent college grads came up with the project, which has been four years in the making, to link two spaces—one for purchasing food and a second for preparing meals, thereby complying with federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, regulations, according to Penn Today. Imbot says their main mission is to "help people and provide the resources, ingredients and information to increase community power and health for everyone."
The store will be helpful for residents to access hot food as it can't be purchased with SNAP benefits, which are conveyed through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. Items like rotisserie chicken and prepared deli foods are also not available for purchase. "This is important," said unemployed Cobbs Creek resident Bashir Gooden, who is 56 years old, according to The Inquirer. "Most corner stores sell processed foods. This'll be different. I applaud it."
What's more interesting about this store is that raw ingredients of portioned-out meals will be available for sale in kits, like chicken with potatoes and vegetables. Customers can buy the kit and just walk to the back of the building into a separate shop that has a kitchen. A worker will then convert the ingredients into a fresh cooked meal at no charge.
"This is a new one, isn't it?" said Charles Reeves, executive director of Resident Action Committee II (RAC2), a Grays Ferry education and non-violence nonprofit. Imbot and Moraru volunteered at the non-profit for more than four years and Reeves has faith in their venture. "These guys are excited about it. And I know it can work. When you come into an African American community and you're white, it's not easy. But Alex and Eli became part of the fabric, taking kids on trips, refereeing games. They're special, caring young men. They want to save lives."
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The duo wants to make fresh meals more accessible to the community as lots of unhealthy foods are still being bought at corner stores. "We're challenging the system as well as creating a retail experience," Imbot said. While pointing to architectural plans for the new-concept corner grocery store, he added, "This is a protest right in front of you." They even cold-emailed the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School to check if there would be any issues circumventing SNAP regulations. "They said our model was legal and that it's never been done before," Moraru added.
The young men even got some help from local chef Aziza Young, who works as a personal chef to local professional athletes to help with the cooking. "I immediately said, 'Yes,'" said Young, adding that the pair were so warm and involved with the community. They met neighbors, learned their names and even played football with the kids, Young said. "When new stores pop up, owners don't bother to learn the community," Young added. "But these guys want to be part of the neighborhood." They have spoken to many people, asking everyone what kind of food they would like. "These outside people are building community," said Lamont Gordon, a maintenance worker from the area. "Somebody cares about us. I feel blessed."