A Young Entrepreneur Brings Fresh Groceries to Those in Need
Access to fresh, nutritious food should be universal. Unfortunately, though, low-income communities are often disadvantaged due to income, physical ability or proximity to a quality grocery store. According to the USDA, 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts- urban neighborhoods without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. 30-year-old Amelia Pape wants to level this playing field. “Food has become this sort of class designation. It’s so backwards because it’s the one thing that everybody need,” she says.
In 2011, formerly-named Fork in the Road raised $13,000 through Kickstarter to buy and retrofit a used bread truck for their pop-up grocery market. Since then, the company- now My Street Grocery- has partnered with Whole Foods and now operates out of a renovated trolley. The underlying goal has remained the same throughout: providing underserved communities access to healthy foods. “Anything can be done if approached with a business mindset,” Pape says.
The trolley operates Tuesdays-Thursdays, visiting various neighborhoods in the Portland-metro area. Once on-board, customers can expect a complete grocery shopping experience with an emphasis on fresh produce as well as seasonal and local items. My Street also offers recipes and meal kits that are designed for convenience and easy preparation.
To improve access to fresh food for all. We know that’s a really unique and complicated mission depending on where we go. We try to look at it in a holistic and comprehensive way and ask the community what access means to them.
What was the moment you realized this is what you wanted to pursue?
I started working on it when I was in grad school at Portland State where I was studying social enterprise- using traditional business models to address social problems. I’ve always been very passionate about food and community. I did research on urban food deserts and designed a mobile market as a solution to that problem. I ended up submitting a business plan to a competition which we did really well in.
I went through the Social Innovation Incubator, which helped me take my business plan to the next level and adjust it for the Portland community. I realized it was a convergence of passions for me. It was an opportunity to serve the community and to be creative with business and bring people together. I eventually started working with food banks, non-profits and affordable housing communities.
In many cases, we look at maps and determine if there are grocery stores nearby. But there are many different ways to define access. For example, certain senior communities are located right next to grocery stores, but they weren’t accessible to that population because of the physical demands. There was a WinCo next door to one of the senior communities, but you have to bag your own groceries at WinCo. The residents weren’t able to use that grocery store. It’s all about asking questions to see how we can help.
We partner with clinics around Portland that provide fresh food vouchers for their patients. They get to go home with fresh and healthy food which was our primary goal, but it’s also created a community for people that otherwise might not have had one. We were able to build relationships between the patients, providers and our staff.
How did you get involved with Whole Foods?
I had a relationship with Whole Foods through my board of advisors. Whole Foods Market has always been passionate about access and helping people eat foods that make them happy and healthy. Our missions aligned really strongly. I got to a point when I needed additional expertise and support and resources, making the impact that my customers deserved. It’s a dream to start a business that you feel meets your passions and to get involved with a company that helps you expand that goal. I feel grateful for all the opportunities we have now.
The clinics are our most comprehensive access point. We’re providing direct access to the food people eat, but we’re also partnering with dieticians, doctors, nurses and social workers. We’re also providing financial assistance with the fresh food vouchers. It’s really different everywhere we go.
What’s your favorite part of running this business?
My favorite part is getting to be in the community and getting to know people of all walks of life that I wouldn’t otherwise know. I really love our customers- they’re so diverse and interesting, I learn a lot from them. People are usually really happy to see us which makes for a positive environment.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Food is such a personal thing for people. In some cases, it’s a personal joy and for others it’s a personal struggle. We’re trying to meet people in all different stages of that journey which can be challenging. Asking people to change their habituated behavior patterns can be a slow process. Being patient is difficult when you want to see results and feel like you’re progressing, but it’s something that takes time.
You mentioned that you wanted My Street Grocery to foster that long-lost corner market sense of community. Do you feel like this has been successful?
In some cases, yes. A lot of times people will come to shop and then just hang out while we’re there. I’ve gotten to know my customers and they’ve gotten to know me. We can share a friendship which is really powerful. It’s hard to do in some cases because we’re only there for a limited time, but we’re still learning how to build that community.
How did the trolley come about?
I wanted a vehicle that people could walk inside and we could run year-round. As soon as a came across the trolley online, I knew that was it. It’s got that feeling of nostalgia and old-world charm that goes along with the whole mission and it runs on natural gas which is great. We call her Molly the Trolley.
Do you have plans to expand?
Our goal is to expand our service to additional communities throughout the region, but we want to do so responsibly. We’re focusing on developing our programs locally. We want to make sure we’re serving Portland, the community that embraced us when we started.
When and Where to Find My Street Grocery (subject to change)
Legacy Good Samaritan Market
Where: Legacy Good Samaritan Clinic Parking Lot, NW 23rd at NW Northrup
Where: 1000 Block of SW River Drive
Richmond Community Market
Where: OHSU Richmond Clinic Parking Lot, 3930 SE Division St
Boise-Elliot Community Market
Where: Legacy Emanuel Clinic Parking Lot, N Vancouver & N Graham
Thursday 2:45-4 pm
Northeast Community Market
Where: Faubion Elementary School, 3039 NE Rosa Parks Way