NEW ROCHELLE, Westchester County (WABC) -- A budding solution to the New York area's food insecurity problem is evolving inside the historic Loews theater in New Rochelle, designed to offer healthy choices to those in need.
"Not enough people have access to fresh produce," Bloom Healthy founder and CEO Marion Henson said.
Her company, Bloom Healthy, is an organic pop-up shop that's open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Wednesday.
"We had our own experience with food insecurity, where we found that we just didn't really qualify for too much," Henson said. "And it began to make me think, once I joined the program, how many people, how many families just find themselves in a crisis?"
Her belief that everyone should have access to organic healthy fruits, vegetables, herbs, and more led to the pay-it-forward grocery experience. A box costs $35.
"Families in crisis are not paying anything when they come and pick up the box, what so ever," she said. "The goal is that the first few boxes they are able to come pick up, they are paid forward by someone else with kindness."
Henson's dream of opening a shop blossomed thanks to Westchester County's Launch1000 initiative, an online program meant to help residents become entrepreneurs.
"Ten years ago, I tried to figure out how to source fruits and vegetables," Henson said. "I wanted to open a grocery store. I didn't know how to do it."
The county's partnership with Kiva, a microlending organization, allowed Henson to obtain the zero interest loan to jump start Bloom Healthy last month.
According to the United Way of Westchester and Putnam, 44% of households in New Rochelle earn more than the federal poverty level but less than the basic cost of living for the county, also known as the ALICE Threshold.
That number is more than the state average of 31%, and the pandemic has only worsened the situation. Feeding Westchester has seen the need double.
"Feeding Westchester, pre-COVID, distributed about 10 to 11.5 billion pounds of food," CEO Karen Erren said. "Really last March and April, we doubled that volume overnight."
Advocates say the need continues, especially in New Rochelle, where Henson is fighting hunger one box at a time.
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