New Article: So Much More than Food

Posted by The Philadelphia Citizen on February 6, 2024

How can we revolutionize nutrition access? Katie Gilbert looks to a pair of Penn alums partnering with a Grays Ferry community group to open a grocery that will provide healthy — and cooked — food to SNAP recipients.

When Charles Reeves, Jr. was growing up in Grays Ferry in the 70s and 80s, his family relied on food stamps. About once a month, his mother would travel from their neighborhood to a grocery store about two miles away to buy fresh ingredients. The rest of the time, Reeves and his siblings used the stamps to buy what was both within walking distance and eligible under the terms of the program — typically, he recalls, chips and soda.

“I appreciate the food stamp program,” Reeves says. “But it didn’t address the issue: We didn’t have equal access to healthy food.”

The dearth of grocery stores in the neighborhood was one reason for that unequal access. Another had to do with the rules dictating the use of the stamps themselves: They couldn’t be used to buy hot, prepared food — and still can’t.

Even when the food stamps program underwent changes in 2008 and was renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the no-hot-food rule remained. This prohibition never made much sense to Reeves, and it doesn’t make much sense to recent University of Pennsylvania grads Alex Imbot and Eli Moraru either.

Reeves, who now runs an organization called Resident Action Committee II (RAC2) to serve and rebuild the Grays Ferry community, is working alongside Imbot and Moraru to pilot a new type of corner store in Cobbs Creek, where SNAP recipients will be able to buy fresh ingredients that have been pre-chopped, pre-portioned, and pre-marinated — and that can be exchanged for a hot meal in a nonprofit-run kitchen next door.

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