A nonprofit food justice organization founded by Penn alumni will break ground in West Philadelphia on Sept. 20.
2020 College graduate Alexandre Imbot and 2021 College graduate Eli Moraru are the co-founders of The Community Grocer. Moraru won the President’s Sustainability Prize from former Interim President Wendell Pritchett in 2022, the prize’s inaugural year. With the University funds and support from the local community, they are set to begin construction of their Cobbs Creek storefront later this month.
Although the project has been in the works for almost four years, Moraru said that the physical site for the new store — located at the intersection of 60th Street and Walton Avenue — was purchased just nine months ago. The new location has helped TCG find a new community after previously focusing its efforts in South Philadelphia, Moraru added.
According to Imbot, TCG aims to provide healthier choices to low-income Philadelphians. He told The Daily Pennsylvanian that a primary tenet of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is that recipients of food stamps are not allowed to buy hot or prepared foods with their benefits.
“This is in theory designed to encourage an uptake in consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Imbot said. “But in the way it’s implemented, there is [more] availability of ultra-processed foods that are eligible [for the program] but not prepared.”
As a SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer-approved realtor, TCG allows community members to purchase ingredients and has a commitment to making sure they have help preparing them after they leave the store.
TCG’s storefront design will help achieve this goal with its twofold set-up. One area will be dedicated to the nonprofit grocery section, stocked with typical supermarket offerings as well as pre-prepared meal kits where every step is taken care of except the physical heating of the dish. A distinct, second premise at the rear of the building will boast a fully equipped commercial kitchen, where customers can trade their meal kits for one that is hot and ready to eat.
TCG aims to “reinvent the corner store and reimagine nutritional assistance,” Moraru said. He explained that their efforts are aimed towards examining how the environments we live in influence our access to nutrition.
“You are an expert in your own life and especially about your relationship with the food system,” Imbot said.
Moraru added that TCG aims to combat food deserts, food swamps, and food apartheid, all while providing access to meals that are “delicious, healthy, and empowering.”
The project is centered around a community-oriented, participatory approach, Imbot said. With TCG, they are looking to create a collective resource for other local organizations which will embody more than just a “food access point.”
“This is not just two Penn kids opening a grocery store,” he said. “It’s a giant coalition of community partners and activists and stakeholders in the food system uniting around access to fresh ingredients.”
Receiving the President’s Sustainability Prize changed the outlook of the project drastically, Imbot told the DP.
The prize “gave us the cash and the acknowledgement of the University to go and continue this conversation with different echelons of the system,” he said. “[We were able to] get this project funded well beyond the $100,000 that Penn gave us so that we could acquire a property and put forth our foundation for something to be created with many other people.”
The 90-minute groundbreaking will feature food prepared by TCG Culinary Director Aziza Young as well as speeches from representatives from TCG’s local partners and members of the community it will support.
This event will “signify the start of our construction and the beginning of this next phase of this journey,” Moraru said.