“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
Heavenly Groceries/Comida Celestial is a certified food bank and ministry of St. Joseph CME Church, dedicated to providing quality produce and grocery items to the underserved communities in and surrounding Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The organization strives to preserve individual dignity and cultural food ways by allowing visitors the option of making their own food choices. Heavenly Groceries/ Comida Celestial thrives off of a culture of compassion and community, cultivated by food’s ability to nurture the body and soul.
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, Heavenly Groceries reclaims food from three groceries stores and serves an estimated 5,000 individuals a month from at least five different counties. The food bank is open five days a week for distribution. In recent months, the food bank has had to discontinue weekend pickups due to limited numbers of volunteers. This work is completed with the collaboration of local church members, UNC-Chapel Hill students, and other individuals from the community who sort, clean, and distribute all food. Groceries are provided for every person that arrives at our doors, there are neither restrictions nor requirements necessary to be given food. We are one of the only North Carolina certified food banks 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.
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 food ways 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!