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APM Food Buying Club

Posted: March 22, 2016

Bringing Food Security to Eastern North Philly - One Family at a Time

Since August 2014, over 50,000 lbs. of produce has been loaded into the green cargo van belonging to Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, Inc. (APM) Food Buying Club (FBC).

The APM was founded in 1970 by a group of Puerto Rican Vietnam veterans who returned from the war and found their own community in need of aid. The name Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (Association of Puerto Ricans on the Move) is still relevant today, reflecting the spirit of actively serving the Greater Philadelphia community 44 years later. Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), now one of the largest Community Development Corporations in the area, has figured out a way to help hundreds of families make healthy, fresh produce more affordable.

Starting out with only four families in August 2014, APM’s FBC now serves over 600 families (as many as 2,000 individuals) through its pop-up distribution system. Last year it was able to save these households cumulatively over $81,000 – a return of investment of 3-to-1 - as it distributed over 40,000 lbs. of fresh produce and employed five (5) residents in a part-time capacity. 

The Food Buying Club intentionally deviates from traditional "food first" distribution models. According to Bridget Palombo, APM’s FBC Coordinator, the FBC began as a purely economic approach to food security where its primary focus is to provide a direct financial benefit to its members. The second is to improve their access to healthy and nutritious food. "This approach," says Palombo, "comes from an understanding of two things. First, hunger can and does co-exist with the presence of adequate food supply at our local and national level. Household food decisions are shaped by income and food costs. Second, to provide lasting solutions to food insecurity, it is necessary to address the community-level conditions – social determinants of health - that limit access to quality, affordable and healthy food. APM realizes to do this it must stay informed of the day-to-day complexities faced by the families it serves.

This is where Community Connectors, like Pete Hopkins, are important. Community Connectors are residents who work with APM part-time as community organizers and ambassadors. They provide a way for APM to get information about different resources and benefits directly to residents while in turn taking in feedback from the community and learning about its needs and desires. Antonio Romero is Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) Outreach Coordinator and oversees the Connectors program for APM. His role is to lead Community Connectors through various initiatives that address quality of life in the Eastern North Philadelphia Community. Together, Connectors engage their neighbors and help bring in resources that serve the stated needs of the community. This is exactly how APM’s Food Buying Club evolved from an idea to reality. 

Every two weeks, Bridget, Antonio and the team of Community Connectors come to the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market with a couple of hand trucks and a long list. That list is based off items that individuals, families and other community members pre-order through Connectors. As Bridget explains, "Everyone here has been so supportive in showing us the ropes of buying and how we can save money, while never sacrificing quality."

Bridget has developed tools and training to help more people see the benefits of pooling their resources and sharing the reward of buying in bulk at a wholesale produce market. She believes that food buying clubs are a sustainable model for reducing the affects of poverty and can be implemented throughout the country. Here in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market is a big part of that equation. "We are particularly lucky to have this amazing resource that is open to the public." Wholesale markets in general benefit our local economy by enhancing access to savings in time, transparent pricing and market information and reducing direct operating costs. The FBC’s relationship with the PWPM helps lower produce losses and adds a way for vendors to retain full fair market value profit for items that otherwise receive a tax deduction for half the cost or go to waste. "The merchants here want us to succeed; it’s a win-win situation for both of us."

In September, Bridget earned national recognition in Washington D.C from the Corporation for National and Community Service for her work with the Food Buying Club in North Philadelphia, receiving the first annual Tom Harkin Excellence in AmeriCorps Award. Also, she authored an article on food insecurity and income in Philadelphia, which was featured on the first page of the One Step Away paper.

She is currently in the process of sharing this model with other Community Development Corporations and agencies in the area. The FBC just received a sponsorship from U-Haul for transportation and two major grants with another in the works, which will allow her to hire community relationship managers to provide technical assistance to other community groups as they establish their food buying clubs.

The PWPM is proud to work with Bridget and the APM!

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Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market   |   6700 Essington Ave   |   Philadelphia, PA 19153   |   Email: info@pwpm.net   |   Phone: (215) 336-3003