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story.lead_photo.caption Candace McCallister heads up the Green Groceries program at Christ Church. The nonprofit buys fresh seasonal food from local farmers and gives to families in need. - Photo by Cary Jenkins

On a recent Tuesday, a large wooden table was piled high with a beautifully arranged display of fresh-picked organic vegetables, fruit, cartons of eggs and local farm-raised beef and pork. It was pickup day for clients of Green Groceries at the Gallery at Christ Church's Parish House.

A colorful chalkboard noted the items available to low-income Little Rock clients accepted into the program. On the list were eggs, beets, cabbage, mini-lettuce, strawberries, squash, zucchini and a choice of ground beef or pork steak.

All the food is purchased from the Arkansas Local Food Network. "We purchase food from local growers and give it to families in Little Rock who are in need," says Candace McCallister, who is in charge of the program.

The program provides local fresh food to about 26 individuals and families year-round.

"We get seasonal food -- so whatever fruits and vegetables that are in season. We always get eggs and we get meat pretty much every week," McCallister says. When there is a lag between growing seasons and less fresh produce, they will often have locally made bread and cheeses, honey and Arkansas-grown rice.

During the abundant summer growing season, Green Groceries has a pickup day every week, while the rest of the year it is every other week. "We are coming up on getting all this beautiful produce right now, we are getting the strawberries and lettuce, all that stuff, so we don't have as much of the other things."

Families or individuals are recommended for the program by other local nonprofits. Selection is based on income and if they are a good fit with the program. "It's food that they have to cook," explains McCallister about the meat and produce. "It's not prepared as a meal, and they have to be able pick it up, so those are factors."

Each week chef Larry Burton prepares a recipe with the available food to show clients what can be done with it. They can also take home the recipe. On this particular day it was Cold Beet Soup.

"We've had people who haven't really tried these kind of foods before. After having tried them, learning to really like them and use them after trying the samples -- they've actually changed their other choices. They've learned how to tell the difference from what they get here and what they buy at the store."

As a result, she says, some clients will look for sales on better and healthier food at the store. "We've seen people have a major health shift like lose weight and gain lots of health benefits from it."

The program also benefits farmers and growers, who are paid for the food, she says. "So any money that we get is a double gift.

"We have a great system and we can really be serving more people than we are. It's just a matter of us getting more funding. That's our goal right now."

To do that, Green Groceries is hosting a fundraiser at the church. "It is a Farm to Church Fundraiser -- like farm to table," she says. "We are going to have a band and local chefs and restaurants are going to be donating hors d'oeuvres and finger foods made with local foods. We'll have a gift shop with items from local artisans and artists and from our clients -- some of them are artists.

"We really wanted this to not feel patronizing and to not feel like top-down giving," she says about the food program. "We want to know the people, for it to feel friendly and welcoming, and for them to be able to pick their own stuff as they go around the table. We wanted it to feel like a market and not have that dehumanizing kind of feel. So people -- if they want to give back -- they can donate something to the gift shop and whatever we make from that can go back to the program."

The Farm to Church Fundraiser is 5-7 p.m. Thursday at the church. The band Big Silver will play in the courtyard, food and drinks will be in the gallery and a gift shop will be set up in a parlor off the gallery. Tickets are $60 -- the cost of a month's worth of fresh groceries for a family, says McCallister. Couple's tickets are $100; $150 for a family.

"It is a family friendly event. It will be a laid-back time with food and some of our farmers will come as our honored guests."

For more information, email greengroceriesprogram@gmail.com or visit their event page on Facebook or eventbrite.com.

Photo by Cary Jenkins
Green Groceries hosts a fresh food pickup every week during spring and summer. Recently, fresh strawberries, lettuce and beets were available to clients of the program. Candace McCallister, who heads the program, says she has seen people who’ve had major health benefits from eating the locally produced food.

High Profile on 06/17/2018

Print Headline: Nonprofit helps its members put fresh local food on tables

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