A Community-Driven Reinvention of the Corner Store: Protesting America’s Broken Food System

Melissa Nong, COL ’24, Quakertown, PA

What does a just and equitable food system look like? And how do we create a dignified and community-driven access point to nutrition for our neighbors? These two questions were the core of my community relations work this summer at The Community Grocer (TCG). TCG is a local nonprofit reinventing the corner store—providing a fresh, healthy, and delicious alternative to the typical chips and soda—and reimagining nutritional assistance with EBT. I had the opportunity to be part of a remarkable team working tirelessly to foster food security in Philadelphia, a team that went beyond just The Community Grocer itself. As the community relations coordinator, my job was to help TCG form partnerships with people and organizations across the city, all working together through different work but a common mission to help people.

I had the privilege to learn from many social activists, community leaders, elected officials, other nonprofit organizations, and our neighbors on the block about what issues our communities are facing and how we can best serve our communities—quite literally, as The Community Grocer will be serving our neighbors the most delicious food and food that they want. At the heart of this learning was the importance of education. People deserve to know where their food comes from; they deserve to know how it is grown; they deserve to know how to prepare and cook healthy food; and they deserve to know what exactly they are putting into their bodies and their children’s bodies. Figuring out to uphold this value of education in our business and customer experience was a crucial part of my work this summer, starting with TCG’s Community Cookbook.

In sum, this experience has been both eye-opening and transformative; it showed me the power of collective efforts, the power of one step and one conversation at a time. Working alongside dedicated members of the Philadelphia community, I witnessed the resilience of people and the real-world impact of their efforts, which extended far beyond simply providing food to those in need. These experiences exposed me to the complexities of food insecurity and the multifaceted challenges faced by our underserved communities—that beyond providing food, we need holistic solutions that bend the arc towards justice, for our food systems, for our communities, and for our planet. Moving forward, I am determined to apply the knowledge and skills gained during this internship to continue to support initiatives promoting food sovereignty and be an advocate for change, starting with my local community.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services