No Cost Grocery Programs are food distribution programs that exist within the backyards and community centers of affordable housing sites and schools. They address barriers to food access, such as transportation barriers, times and days in which food pantries are open, red tape and paperwork, shame and stigma and external negativity.
We address common food access barriers by distributing food through NCGPs, community-led food distribution points that operate in the community centers and backyards of program users. The fact that the programs are run out of these easy-to-access locations ameliorate barriers associated with operating hours, transportation, and transporting groceries. The fact that the programs are run by community members and other program users ameliorate common barriers associated with shame and stigma. The fact that we coordinate with community members to only deliver food items program users want to receive in quantities they can use, ameliorates barriers around choice and the burden around unwanted food. We train courier volunteers to carry out quality control sorting procedures before delivering food to communities to only deliver food in desirable quality and reduce the burden around poor quality and unwanted food.
People often say that the food system is broken, implying we can fix it, but to paraphrase farmer and food justice advocate Karen Washington, the food system is largely functioning how it’s designed to – as one of many systems that function to consolidate power along race, class, and geographical lines. For many people, COVID-19 has been an opportunity to acknowledge that our current safety nets, economic system, and efforts to address race and class-based power and wealth consolidation are insufficient. We need sweeping, long term systems change and serious conversations to correct historical and current resource consolidation (food, land, wealth, political power) in order to meaningfully address food insecurity. However, it’s also important to acknowledge the fact that communities without easy and abundant access to wealth and resources have been supporting their own health and wellbeing in spite of barriers and extractive and oppressive systems for literally forever, and they’ve been doing that during the pandemic, too. What we aim to do is acknowledge, honor, and leverage that in order to respectfully and successfully transfer resources, control of those resources, and ultimately, power.