Walnut Hills / E. Walnut Hills

Walnut Hills changemakers: locals come together to provide healthy food for the community

On Tuesday, February 18th, Soapbox met with people from different organizations who are leading the charge on bettering food access in Walnut Hills. Kroger closed its Walnut Hills location in March 2017, and since that time, the area has been without a local grocery store, becoming what is termed a “food desert,” meaning residents have no easy access to fresh, healthy cuisine.

On the Ground Community Newsroom host Kathryne Gardette spoke first with Suzy DeYoung, founder of La Soupe, an organization designed to bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity. Suzy detailed how La Soupe picks up surplus produce from 63 organizations and gets it to the “Bucket Brigade”: other chefs around Cincinnati who then transform the food into soups for those in need.

She also discussed the organization’s “Cincinnati Gives a Crock” program.

“All kids in this program get a crockpot, they get to keep it. It’s an 8–10 week program, all volunteer-run. They go in and learn measuring and spicing. They learn to prepare the meals at the school, then when they leave [the program], the crockpot is at home and they are then preparing meals for a family of six,” she detailed.

Suzy also talked about why La Soupe chose to move to Walnut Hills and its new Improv Kitchen Studio that will be part of this location. Residents will be able to come in and help transform produce into soup, and then take some home for their efforts.

Kathryne then met with Shauntia Edwards, executive director of Queen City Kitchen, an organization with two locations (Walnut Hills and OTR) that provides meals six days a week to those in need. “Our mission is to help with food insecurity with dignity to all of our clients,” she said.

Queen City Kitchen served more than 8,000 meals across its two locations in 2019, and it accomplished this with only seven employees. It relies heavily on volunteers to help.

“We had over 17,000 volunteer hours across 1045 volunteers in 2019,” she said.

Queen City Kitchen’s 2020 goal is to start a resource center in half of its building to help with job readiness, so it is in need of computers and laptops, fax machines, and people to teach classes on resumes, etc. It also has a goal to recruit younger volunteers to learn from the ones who have been making the organization run smoothly for many years.

Kathyrne’s third guest was Dave Curtin, founder of the Food Forest mobile app. Food Forest features more than 8,000 available grocery products that can be ordered for delivery to a user’s doorstep. Dave was a member of the Kroger Digital team that developed Kroger Clicklist.

“The grocery store closure here in Walnut Hills struck me as an opportunity to explore some new innovative ways to address food access,” he said. “When a store closes, it basically turns groceries off. My thinking is, you don’t have to turn it off entirely. You can keep it on at least two or three days a week, it’s just going to look different, it’s going to feel different. For customers who really need groceries … delivery is an option.”

“I picked Walnut Hills to launch because I saw this grocery store closure in my community, and I wanted to be proactive in building a solution, in putting my skills to work in my neighborhood,” he continued.

The final guest for this week’s Community Open Newsroom was Gary Dangel, food access coordinator for the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. Gary discussed the seven community gardens in Walnut Hills, including the two “foraging forests,” where residents can pick produce right from the trees.

“Every garden is different and has a different purpose. The goal is that nobody goes hungry in Walnut Hills,” he said. “There’s also a communal thing that happens when you come out and grow food together … you build these friendships and it tightens the fabric of the neighborhood. It’s beyond growing healthy food, it’s growing healthy friendships.”

Alongside the On the Ground Community Newsroom series, Soapbox is running an information-gathering program using a text-communication tool called Groundsource. We want to hear from Walnut Hills residents directly through a series of short questions and answers via text, what their grocery shopping habits are since the area became a food desert. Residents can text “HELLO” to 513-230-6899 to begin the survey and assist Soapbox in gathering this food access information. For more information on the Groundsource tool, visit: www.groundsource.co.

This was the fifth Open Newsroom session of eight. The Walnut Hills Community Open Newsroom and Groundsource projects are made possible by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project

To read the latest On the Ground in Walnut Hills series, click here. The On The Ground Walnut Hills feature series is made possible by a grant from The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr. / U. S. Bank Foundation.

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Read more articles by Kacey King Redmond.

Kacey King Redmond is a graduate of Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism and has her MBA from Thomas More University. She has written for various trade publications, associations, and is a published poet and children’s author. She currently specializes in content marketing for her consulting firm, Cincy Marketing Maven, and acts as social media manager for Soapbox Cincinnati and its sister publication, NKY Thrives.