'We Opened a Free Grocery Store for Seniors'

When we opened a free grocery store at the rapper Gunna's old middle school in September 2021, we already had the goal of opening more. So we began thinking about who else could benefit and what other population has the greatest need. We knew from my work with seniors that a lot are experiencing food insecurity. I personally have been working with seniors for 10 years; providing food in senior homes and buying groceries for individuals myself.

We reached out to our network in the fall and started talking about how we could get the funding and where we could open a free grocery store for seniors. We chose Lutheran Towers in Atlanta because there was a perfect harmony there. They had some funding, my company Goodr had partners, and they had a space available.

We first saw their space in November and our original goal was that we wanted to open the store for the Christmas holidays. But at the time it was being used as a storage facility and there was probably 30 years of stuff in there. They had 8-track tapes and old school luggage; items that had been in there for years and had belonged to residents who were no longer living.

We moved those items into another storage space and cleared it out, then we painted, brought in lighting and changed the space. But just clearing it took almost a month with Christmas holidays and people taking time off. Once it was cleared, we were able to build the store in two weeks.

Like with the store in Gunna's old school, where we gave a reusable bag to every kid, we sent every senior at Lutheran Towers a reusable bag with a flier about the store opening on January 19 and included some products in there as well.

One thing I thought about is how seniors have more time; a lot of them are retired. So I wanted to make the store something that they could really spend some time in. We then decided to provide rolling baskets so shoppers didn't have to carry their groceries before we bag them up.

Free Grocery Store For Seniors in Atlanta
Free Grocery Store For Seniors in Atlanta

This store has a lot of items that are very senior specific. A lot of sugar-free products, low sodium items and baking goods. We have many items that our other store did not have, like brownie and cake mix, cornmeal, flour and oil. The very first day the store opened we heard someone say, "I'm about to make me some brownies!" I saw another lady taking a recipe from a tin of recipes we have and saying she was going to make some cheesecake bites. They were so excited.

We also have adult diapers, throat antiseptic, indigestion and heartburn products and denture cleaner. The seniors can fill up their shopping basket with items each visit and return as many times as they want.

Free Grocery Store for Seniors in Atlanta
Free Grocery Store For Seniors in Atlanta
Free Grocery Store For Seniors in Atlanta

The store is open Monday through Friday from 11am until 4pm and we're talking about opening on the second Saturday of the month. During the pandemic there were a lot of stores that were open for the first hour or so just for seniors, but on January 19 a senior mentioned to me that this whole store is just for them. She said felt very comfortable being in the space. Maybe seniors don't feel as relaxed being out in a regular store.

The funding for the store is a joint partnership between Lutheran Towers and Goodr, and Goodr procures all the goods, so we work directly with the vendors to get all the food and non-food items delivered and put out in the store. Every Monday we restock the store and on Fridays we do inventory. We also have a staff member from Lutheran Towers who works at the store.

It was important for us to help introduce people to new foods, so we're having live tastings where we'll have a chef come in and give the residents a demo. Our first one is on February 23. And, to really utlize the space, we created a recipe station in the store, using a computer that Dell had given us, cookbooks and recipes in a tin.

We had 50-75 seniors shop in the store in the four days after we opened on January 19 and 25 of those shopped on the very first day. That's really positive. Seniors have said they're really excited by the assortment of items and that they weren't expecting that. The sad thing is that we have now received hundreds of emails from other seniors asking how they can come to the store.

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The store opening was on the local news and I think people understood from the story that it was for all seniors, instead of for seniors who live in Lutheran Towers, which is the messaging we shared. Many seniors have also asked us to call their senior home because they want a free grocery store opened. There is a real need for seniors and I don't think people understand that.

When we were there on January 19 one lady told me that her cupboards were empty until her food stamps arrived in February. Here we are with a senior saying she didn't know how she was going to be eating for the next 12 days. That has me very focused on trying to grow this concept. My goal is to open as many of these as possible because the need is there, it's really about trying to find the funding.

Our big free grocery stores have been in the Atlanta area to date, but we do a lot of work throughout America. Goodr's pop-up free grocery stores and surplus food recovery work— where we take food from businesses that would otherwise go to waste and give to people in need—run all across the country. We're also planning to open more of our free grocery stores around the U.S. too. We're currently in talks to open three in Denver, one in an elementary school, one in a middle school and one in a high school and we're having conversations in states like Mississippi about opening stores there.

When you look at how much money is spent fighting hunger globally, it's billions of dollars. But the money does tend to go to the same big food programs. Nothing is wrong with that, but the way that we at Goodr think about solving hunger is changing the norm, so if we are able to get funding like that, or even a percentage of that funding, I think we'll be able to have a bigger impact on the lives of a lot of people who are experiencing hunger. That's what I'm really excited about.

Jasmine Crowe is a social entrepreneur, TED speaker, and CEO of Goodr. Find out more about Goodr at goodr.co or follow Jasmine on Twitter @jasminecrowe. Her children's book '"Everybody Eats" is available to pre-order here everybodyeatsbook.com.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.