“We ain’t going to change the world in one day,
But we gonn’ work at it a day at a time.”
-Mrs. Gladys Pendergraph
At the heart of our concept of food justice is the belief that every individual should have access to good quality food. This is also the fundamental principle of “Heavenly Groceries/Comida Celestial,” a certified food bank and ministry of St. Joseph CME church, as it provides fresh produce, meats, cheeses, breads and processed foods to anyone that comes through the door. Beyond a mere food distribution center, Heavenly Groceries/Comida Celestial is a place where care is offered warmly, often through seemingly small gestures, and where individual dignity is preserved. The culture of compassion we cultivate is rooted in the idea that food nurtures not just the body but also the soul, and we aim to share this food ministry gospel through other work in our community.
Heavenly Groceries/Comida Celestial began in 2002 as a ministry of St. Joseph C.M.E. Church when Reverend Troy Harrison and his wife Bernice Harrison began collecting bread from the Entenmann’s factory and distributing it to members of the church. Today, the food ministry reclaims food from four groceries stores and serves over 3,000 individuals a month from at least four different counties. The food bank is open five days a week for distribution and provides food to area churches on the weekend. This work is completed with the collaboration of local church members, UNC-CH students, and other individuals from the community who sort, clean, and distribute all food. Any person who walks in the door may take their fair share of groceries, no questions asked. We are the only North Carolina certified food bank that allows patrons to select their own food, which provides each person the opportunity to choose food he or she will enjoy and that adheres to particular food traditions. This model is meant to honor individuals’ preferences and dignity during the act of receiving food from a food bank. While Heavenly Groceries/Comida Celestial is already a well-oiled machine, Jackson Center Food Justice Fellows coordinate student volunteers, seek sources of financial support, and advocate for this model as part of a potential solution to food insecurity.
A Place at the Table
The first edition of a community cookbook, “Soul in A Bowl,” was published in 2009. A compilation of recipes and photographs, the cookbook focused on the Northside community in order to save recipes that community members cherished. In the process of collecting recipes, UNC-CH students and community members held cooking days to test submitted recipes and engage in fellowship.
The success of “Soul in a Bowl” has inspired us to create the second edition of this community cookbook. Participating in direct community dialogue, fostering fellowship through more cooking days, and witnessing the stories people tell about food will guide us through this process. The second edition will go beyond the standard format of a cookbook and, as an expression of history and culture, will also include food memories, stories, photographs, and oral histories. Rooted in our association with Heavenly Groceries/Comida Celestial, this foodways documentary project will be embedded with a deep appreciation for the role of food in movements toward greater social justice.
If you are interested in working with us on this initiative, look out for recipe requests and cooking days in the months to come!