Grocery shopping can be tedious and challenging to work into schedules and, even more so, hunting down quality and trusted food items can be even more of a pain. Farmers' market hours can't always coordinate with work hours, your go-to store often runs out of your favorite organic or locally-sourced items for a dinner recipe, the list goes on. But what if you can have local, fresh, affordable, and quality produce and foods delivered to your front door for free?
Thanks to Top Box Foods, from anytime Sunday through Thursday by 8 p.m., you can order fresh and locally sourced veggies, fruit, dairy, seafood, meat, poultry, rice, and herbs at astonishingly affordable prices to be delivered to your door, the next day, for free! Top Box is a nonprofit organization with a mission to address existing food deserts and insecurities by making nutritious and affordable food accessible in neighborhoods where it usually is not. So with every order from Top Box, not only do you get the advantage of having trusted, discounted groceries conveniently delivered to your steps, but you also have the opportunity to support local farmers, small businesses, and you play a part in providing a basic and vital necessity to those in need throughout the community.
"Insecurity and the disparities that we see in our communities are ugly," Connor Deloach, co-founder and executive director of Top Box Foods, said. "And in understanding that issue more, we have found ourselves trying to play a bigger role in what would be a long-term solution to hopefully alleviate that problem for generations to come."
After volunteer experience with Top Box Foods in Chicago in college, Deloach and another co-founder brought Top Box to New Orleans in 2013, where they saw just as much of a need for the program because of the city's "food deserts" (defined by the USDA as places where residents, often in low-income areas, have to travel more than a mile for supermarket access). New Orleans, at the time, was of course still in the post-Katrina recovery phase with not a lot of development by way of grocery stores, thus, lots of deserts.
"We really started with the goal of addressing the immediate issue at hand and trying to connect people to more affordable and more accessible healthy food options," Deloach said. He continued to explain how this involved figuring out how to do large-scale bulk purchasing and wage-opportunity buys to drive down food costs and cut out middle men to offer prices at least 40%-50% of store retail prices.
Top Box adamantly works towards their mission through two different initiatives: the Makin' Groceries Program, the earlier mentioned delivery service that brings fresh food to door steps, and the Healthy Corner Store Collaborative, a program responsible for making fresh foods an option at corner stores in low-income areas lacking access.
Deloach explained how the Makin' Groceries program started off with Top Box staff cold-knocking and community networking in identified areas of need to find office spaces, ministries, community centers, and other congregation areas accessible for residents in the area to visit weekly and pick up boxes of fresh foods. But, when the pandemic hit and gathering restrictions were placed, the program transformed to what it is now: a convenient next-day delivery service for residents in all areas of New Orleans.
"When the pandemic first set in, we made the conscious decision that we were going to commit to continuing to serve all the folks who had relied on us in the past, and in doing so, we also determined that home delivery was going to be the only way to safely do that," Deloach recalled. "We did not know, however, how big and how many people were going to need that service."
Pre-pandemic, Top Box served about 250 families per week. During it, once shut downs happened and grocery store runs became risky, that number jumped to 1,400 families per week. With continued community support, Deloach said that he can see the system being able to sustain itself to continue to provide this service throughout the city.
Community and grant support has also helped Top Box continue their Healthy Corner Store Collaborative initiative. Food deserts without accessible grocery stores may have corner stores; however, these corner stores usually lack nutritional options. Buying produce in bulk can be expensive to do, especially if owners feel they won't be able to sell all in-store; Top Box offers healthy options at more affordable unit prices to encourage purchases for corner store shelves.
Anthony D is the owner of Matt's Grocery, one of the corner stores a part of this initiative. He explained that the partnership started just six months after he took over management of the store in 2019 and, since, he has appreciated the support received and the ability to provide healthy shelf options in the store for residents in the area.
To support Top Box and their initiatives by browsing available box and product options for an order or learn to more, visit topboxfoods.com, @topboxlouisiana on Instagram, or their Facebook page. Deloach stressed that their work is made possible by dedicated and eager volunteer support. In addition to placing online delivery orders for your home, opting for a "Give A Box" order (a part of the Give-A-Box program in partnership with celebrity chef and No Limit rapper Mia X, where 100% of the donation goes to grocery box deliveries to homes in need) or making a monetary donation through their site, if you are interested in becoming a volunteer, be on the lookout for calls often posted to their social media platforms and on Handshake. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org to express interest.
Hurricane Ida Aftermath
Of note, the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Ida caused subsequent item-availability changes for Top Box. Although the Crescent City Farmers Market Box is available (and similar to before the storm, scheduled for weekly Tuesday delivery for customers that order by 5 p.m. Friday), mainly a-la-carte items are available from an adjusted "Makin' (Do) Groceries Menu" for next-day delivery. Available items still include local products, frozen meats, fresh veggies and fruit, salsas, and jams, with more items being added daily; according to the Top Box team, the most popular boxes, such as the Vegetable Box, Fruit Box, and Combo Box, will return and be available for delivery as soon as possible. Visit their websites or social media accounts for relevant updates.