The spirit of giving
Meadowbridge market offers free groceries to local residents
Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/22/2023, 6 p.m.
Dark and silent most days,the Meadowbridge Community Market comes alive on Saturdays.
More than 100 individuals and families will stream through the store at 3613 Meadowbridge Road that single day to fill grocery bags with apples and other produce, canned items, eggs, toilet paper and other household necessities.
They leave with armloads of items without paying a dime.
Welcome to the free store that the all-volunteer Mutual Aid Distribution RVA or MAD RVA has created in North Richmond.
Opened in September, the unique store serves all comers, without any checks on credit, income, family size or any other criteria.
As Ayanna Ogaldez, a founding member of MAD RVA who is credited with the store idea, put it, “We trust people when they come to us and say that they need things. Being low barrier is a tenet and a value that we as a collective hold.”
Of course, this is not the only food distribution outlet in the Richmond area.
At this time of the year, food giveaways are even more commonplace in the Richmond area, along with free dinners on the Thanksgiving holiday through groups such as The Giving Heart.
During the past two weeks, more than 3,000 turkeys and related holiday food items have been given out by various organizations — ranging from the Richmond Police Department to the National Pan-Hellenic Council of Metro Richmond, private businesses, members of City Council, churches and nonprofit groups.
That surplus of food is a main reason the store is taking a break this weekend.
But the Meadowbridge store is not a one-off holiday operation. Like the Food Bank, the homeless services group Blessing Warriors and food pantries across the area, MAD RVA works to combat hunger in the community year-round.
The store, whose operating slogan is “Take what you need, leave what you don’t, bring what you can” currently operates from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on its one weekend day.
In addition, a Richmond Community Fridge sits in front of the store offering bunches of carrots, lettuce bowls and other produce to anyone in need. There also is similar fridge with food for pets.
Two hours before the store opens, people line up to get a slip with a number on it that will allow them entry. The nonprofit does that to create a count and avoid having more people than supplies.
The store is critical to people such as Barbara Forrest, 62, who live on the edge of poverty. The disabled woman calls the store a “godsend.”
Ms. Forrest said she has to use her government check to cover her rent. She said she does get $58 dollars from food stamps, “but that doesn’t stretch very far. This store really helps me have the food I need.”
That’s also the case for Lorenzo Parker, 52, who said the store is “very important” to him and for William Jones, 62, who said the store helps “feed the family.”
Rosalyn Abney also comes to the store to pick up items for three families that she helps provide food. “This makes it easier for me,” she said.
It’s also important to volunteers, including Duncan Harris, a disabled postal worker, who volunteers at the store. “I want to do something positive, and this place makes it easy for me to be involved,” he said.
The store is the next step for the self-help group launched in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Similar to programs that people created in New York and a host of American communities as well as in England, the MAD RVA focus was on collecting and distributing food and other essentials.
With a coalition of about 40 people then led by Virginia Commonwealth University student Ayanna Ogaldez, MAD RVA garnered attention locally by raising money and then distributing supplies to assist people struggling after the economy shut down.
The nonprofit conducted online and in-person supply drives and reported raising more than $630,000 in products and donations to fuel its efforts to fight the food insecurity that the pandemic exposed.