Back in April, a month or so into the pandemic, Jessica Rights and her husband Nicholas Freeman recognized what a stressor grocery shopping had become. Between out of stock items and the anxiety of being in close quarters with others indoors, they wanted another way. To bypass the stress, they bought a half-ton of groceries up front and sold the extras to their neighbors, packing individual boxes on their front porch. In a moment, Mount Airy Groceries was born.
The interest was so great from their neighbors that with the extra tips and donations, they were able to support Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network (PIHN), whose workload supporting families in need has increased fivefold during Covid-19.
“I want to make sure the community knows how grateful we are for their generosity,” said Jessica. “This whole thing has really been a neighborhood building charity together.”
They quickly needed more space than they had, and ultimately, they had more food than they needed. George Drakopoulos, owner and operator of Malelani Cafe, had a wholesale account and a storefront that was closed on account of the pandemic. Both of these helped enable Jessica and Nicholas to streamline their operations.
In the time since, Mount Airy Groceries has established an account at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market in Southwest Philadelphia, and Jessica enrolled in PhillyiHub, the business training program Mt. Airy CDC facilitates. She completed the program in June. “It was really successful for me,” she said. “It really clarified a lot of things, especially sales and distribution.”
Mt. Airy CDC also happened to have a storefront available at 6620 Germantown Avenue. Recognizing the couple’s service to their community, the CDC made the space available to Jessica and Nicholas. In July, Mount Airy Groceries had a new home. Since then, they’ve been making nearly daily trips to “The Docks,” as Jessica calls the Wholesale Produce Market.
Orders for groceries, both for oneself and for donations, happen on their website. Groceries are then available both for pickup and local delivery. With every purchase of a food box, they’re able to donate a box. In addition to PIHN, they’ve been able to coordinate donated boxes to daycares, eldercare, and educational organizations.
Helping them out in the shop is their friend Ericka Stewart, whose Bright Smiles Campaign helps “put a smile on a child’s face by teaching them proper hygiene, great nutrition, and a fabulous sense of self.” Eventually, the team would like to build out the space for a more encompassing educational experience for kids.
It’s all part of Mount Airy Groceries’ mission that, simply stated, is neighbors helping neighbors. Just as important, they’re not only making food available to those who need it, it’s good and nutritious food.
How it works
You can order your own thoughtfully crafted box in three sizes ($45 large, $25 small, and $15 extra small) on their website, with pickup Tuesday through Saturday. In addition to fresh produce, each box comes with a protein (eggs or tofu). Other items like milk are available as add-ons.
You can also make a donation that will supply families in need with fresh and nutritious produce or a box of joy, a box of breakfast goodies for kids. And on Saturdays, you can fill a bag of produce for $5 (or whatever you can afford), and enter a raffle donated by fellow Mt. Airy businesses.
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