Each Friday, Lee County farmer Beth Hornsby drops off 11 sacks of fresh fruits and vegetables at Pediatric Associates of Auburn.
By that afternoon, 11 pantries across the Auburn-Opelika area are a little fuller thanks to Nourish, the nonprofit Hornsby and pediatrician Katie Wolter cultivated to provide fresh groceries to needy families.
“In Alabama, few food-assistance programs include fresh food,” said Wolter, a mom of six who studied nutrition before attending medical school. “The health benefits of fresh food far outweigh the benefits of nonperishables, so we wanted to meet those needs in our community.”
Since dispensing its first baskets Thanksgiving week of 2016, Nourish has delivered over 70,000 pounds of food. Hornsby and her husband, Josh, donate items such as squash, corn, peppers, lettuce and sweet potatoes from their Hornsby Farms.
Parkway Farmers Market in Opelika partners to provide fruit including oranges, bananas and grapes. Hornsby taps into grower connections to bulk up baskets, too.
“When I’m at the Market at Ag Heritage Park (at Auburn University), I’ll go to other farmers and buy items, or they’ll donate them,” Hornsby said. “It’s been nice to spread the word about Nourish to other farms and plant a seed for what they can do. The goal is to make Nourish bigger than just here — to show people how it can be done in their community.”
Nourish has a team of volunteers that distribute food. In its two-and-a-half-year history, about half the families they serve have outgrown the need for Nourish, opening a door to serve others.
“In our community alone, one in four children doesn’t know where their next meal will come from,” Wolter said. “Our goal is that these families will eventually reach a place financially where they don’t need assistance, but as long as they’re using the food, there’s no time limit on Nourish.”
Strong nurse-patient relationships at Pediatric Associates helped pinpoint families Nourish could serve, Wolter said.
One beneficiary is a mom who said Nourish helps get a healthy dinner on the table for her five children — ranging from newborn to 15 years old.
“They love the grapes, apples, oranges and potatoes,” she said. “Every Friday, they look forward to the bag. It helps our family and is a blessing.”
Wolter connected with Hornsby in 2015 through Hornsby Farms, which delivers veggie baskets to customers. The Hornsbys also grow fresh produce for area restaurants and farmers markets and specialize in craft foods, including jams, jellies and pickles.
The Hornsbys, who use Pediatric Associates of Auburn for their three children, were searching for a more meaningful way to serve the community, outside of food bank donations and sporadically delivering produce to families in need.
“We say Nourish was orchestrated by God,” said Hornsby, who serves on the Lee County Farmers Federation board.
After months researching logistics and brainstorming ways to sustain the program, an email popped into Hornsby’s inbox from two Auburn University undergraduates. Noelle Petty Powell and Brittyn Moellering King, both pursuing degrees in hunger studies, were exploring how farmers give back locally.
With their help, Nourish blossomed, and they drafted a name, logo, mission and strategy.
The plan included fundraising dinners to offset costs. The yearly event features Hornsby Farms produce and highlights talents of award-winning chefs, such as Auburn’s David Bancroft of Acre restaurant.
This spring, brightly colored blooms bunched in clear milk bottles decorated tables at the Downtown Family Supper in Auburn. Small, brown paper tags were inked with “Nourish Blooms,” telling diners that the fundraiser organized by the Auburn Downtown Merchants Association also benefited Nourish.
“These flowers are a tangible connection to Nourish for people who see us set up at events throughout the city,” Hornsby said. “Through buying flowers, you’re helping families. We’ve gotten more responses for donations and involvement through this than any Facebook or Instagram post.”
Wolter supplies Nourish Blooms to Auburn businesses including The Hound and Coffee Cat and makes home deliveries. Hornsby’s farmers market booth includes the flowers, too, which sell for $6.
“I feel like we’re doing something that seems so small,” Hornsby said. “But on a bigger scale, Nourish is a huge thing because of the families we’re helping.”
To learn more, follow Nourish AL on Facebook and Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org.