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WEB EXCLUSIVE Having struggled with food insecurity himself, Marcus Harris—a bestselling poet, author, playwright, filmmaker, volunteer, philanthropist, activist and founder of The Marcus Harris Foundation—knew that something had to be done to help the more than 35 million people struggling with food insecurity throughout the country, a number that only amplified when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
One day last year, Harris had read about a free grocery story that country music singer Brad Paisley and his wife had started in Nashville, Tennessee. People who are struggling financially can shop at the store for free for up to a year while they get help to get back on track. Harris loved the idea and immediately set out to recreate something similar here in Raleigh.
After meeting with his board, Harris decided to slowly work his way up to the grocery store model by first doing a free food distribution service in Southeast Raleigh—which he dubbed Neighborfood Express—that would provide him with crucial experience and connections, and help those who had the most need first. “We went through a lot of research to find out where there weren’t free food distribution hubs and we kept being pointed to Southeast Raleigh, where they have a lot of food insecure people,” Harris says. The six low-income neighborhoods he’s focusing on in Southeast Raleigh are considered food deserts, meaning they reside a significant distance from the nearest supermarket or grocery store.
Each week, Harris sources 5 to 10 pounds of fresh produce from local farmers, 20 to 25 pounds of healthy groceries (including meats, fruits and non-perishable items), and 100 to 200 pounds of surplus food through a partnership with Olive Garden, as well as essential supplies like baby wipes and creams, for him and a group of volunteers to drop off to Southeast Raleigh families in need.
Since starting Neighborfood Express in November 2020—just before Thanksgiving—Harris has distributed over 2,500 meals, 11,148 pounds of free food and 1,005 kids’ books through a partnership with Wake Up and Read.
Harris’ first-year goal for Neighborfood Express is to distribute at least 50,000 pounds of free healthy groceries, as well as essential supplies, eliminating hunger for nearly 5,000 Southeast Raleigh residents. Additionally, he’s already started developing plans for the free grocery store, which he hopes to open by 2024 or 2025.
“Ever since launching our efforts in November, we’ve made tremendous progress in accomplishing our goal of ending hunger for thousands of food insecure kids and families,” Harris says.
Support Harris in helping to eliminate hunger in the lives of thousands of kids and families by donating by making a donation. Any amount helps!
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