Matthew 25's mission is to empower people to transform neighborhoods as it envisions a thriving, connected community where people are valued and talents are multiplied; where neighborhood families have access to safe, affordable housing and healthy food; and where youth are empowered through reading and the creative arts. See how they #BeUMC.
By: Liz Winders, Director of Communications
On Wednesday, April 27, Matthew 25’s Cultivate Hope Corner Store drew crowds on its grand opening day. The new store brings healthy and fresh food to the Time Check neighborhood, an area of Cedar Rapids that lacks nearby fresh, affordable food sources. Corner Store offers everything from organics, meat, dairy, produce, and dry goods but also has free products that help it cross the line between what it was previously as a food pantry and its new life as a neighborhood grocery store.
Matthew 25’s vision is to make Corner Store a community grocery store located in a vibrant space that brings neighbors together and provides a convenient location for healthy food in a food desert neighborhood. The aim is to increase access to healthy food for a broad spectrum of people by addressing major obstacles and providing new pathways to healthy eating. The three pathways are convenience, affordability, and knowledge.
Corner Store offers Good Meals to Go, freshly prepared meals at low prices (around $4 each). The meals are developed and made by another Matthew 25 entity, the Groundswell Café.
“Opening this store in a food desert is a big deal by making it more convenient for people. It is easy to walk to and accessible in a little neighborhood like this. The pre-prepared ready-to-go meals are healthy, delicious, and affordable. By offering these meals at low prices, we try to make healthy eating the convenient choice for people,” said Jana Bodensteiner, Matthew 25’s Chief Development Officer.
“We have been here several times already,” said neighbor Mona Cook. Corner Store began its soft opening earlier this week. “The produce is awesome. It is so nice to have a neighborhood store to stop by on your way home. It is very nice and convenient.”
The healthier food in grocery stores is often too expensive for people at lower income levels. At Cultivate Hope Corner Store, they aim to keep prices below usual grocery prices.
They offer a section of produce that anyone can take for free. Pay-it-forward donations partially support this.
“You can have the discreteness of getting your purchased and your free items,” said Bodensteiner. “You take everything to the register. You don’t need a special card or anything. It’s just on your honor to take what you need without having to designate people into categories.”
They also accept EBT/SNAP and WIC, making it easy for families utilizing those programs to access healthy food from our store.
The Corner Store also has a selection of local Iowa products, including Dan and Debbie’s Creamery ice cream and cheese, items from the Amana Colonies Bakery, and High Brow Wine from Ludden Vineyards & Wines.
“Speaking on behalf of the family, the biggest thing for Dan and Debbie’s Creamery is they love to be able to see the journey from cow to consumerism and being able to know that we are supporting globally and giving back and being able to provide more of it to those areas. That is very important to them,” said Dacey Johnson, who sampled cheese at the grand opening and block party.
Education will be a vital component of Cultivate Hope Corner Store. Classes provided by Matthew 25 staff, representatives from Iowa State University, and other community partners will help educate store customers and those living in the community about healthy eating and cooking. They will also have tasty seasonal recipes, educational materials available for customers to take with them, and a bulletin board to connect people with other community resources.
“Many people don’t know what to do with fresh fruits and vegetables. They want to know how you incorporate them into the main dish. We’re offering classes in a seating area near a newly installed window. The bulletin board will have materials on nutrition or recipes people can take with and use as reference. We are looking at breaking down the barriers to healthy eating and accessibility for the widest range of people possible,” said Bodensteiner
Matthew 25 believes healthy food is a cornerstone of building healthy neighborhoods, and they understand the connection between healthy communities and increased opportunities for residents. For the past 16 years, they’ve taken a holistic approach to neighborhood revitalization, specifically focused on social determinants of health.
They are continually working to refine the tactics that address overlooked spaces while making healthy food infrastructure a partial driver of neighborhood revitalization. One particularly unique benefit of this project is the renovation of the more than 100 years old historic Hosmer building.
“We’re not just revitalizing the neighborhood by bringing a grocery store to a food desert but also taking this blighted building and turning it into a beacon of health and wellness for the neighborhood,” said Bodensteiner. “It then connects to our urban farm, which is just a block and a half away because it will grow some of the products we supply in the grocery store. It connects to our Groundswell Café because our Groundswell Café staff makes the ready-to-go meals that we’re selling. So, we are finding these food synergies between our other programs and addressing food issues across all of these fronts to begin addressing people’s needs at whatever point they are.”
Cultivate Hope Corner Store is staffed with a mix of volunteers and paid employees, with most of the people who work in the store living in the neighborhood.
“I was walking by here and watching the restoration,” said Pete Chihak, Corner Store employee and resident for over 50 years. “It’s a beautiful brick building and has been here forever. Watching how the neighborhood has changed and cleaned up has been amazing. I feel that the residents are a little more conscious about their yards and keep things clean, which keeps improving.” Chihak cooked up local sausage samples during the grand opening and block party.
One million dollars from Matthew 25’s Healthy Neighborhoods capital campaign funded the renovation of the Hosmer building and the creation of Corner Store. This campaign has drawn support from 225 donors throughout the community, including individuals, corporations, faith communities, and foundations.