By Abby Hoover and Nikki Lansford

Fresh Market – Mercado Fresco, the newest addition to the Independence Avenue business community, donated $30,000 worth of food to Northeast organizations working to feed the community.

“We want to give back to the community because we’re a part of this community, we’re a big part of it, we just want to continue being nice to the community and work with the community,” said Subhi “Junior” Zaben, son of Fresh Market owner Eddie Musallet. 

The donation included shelf stable food items left over when the store transitioned. On Wednesday, Feb. 24, Independence Avenue Community Improvement District (CID) Urban Street Ambassadors (USA) descended on Fresh Market and made quick work of loading pickup trucks with the donations.

“Stuff that we took off the shelf and replaced, we’re giving it away so that we could help out the community,” Zaben explained.

Pastor Ann Rundquist of Gathering Table Lutheran Church at 5001 Independence Avenue, accepted the donation on behalf of the community and alerted other organizations to the opportunity.

“We just think this is a great community endeavor,” Rundquist said. “The [Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce] really got this going, along with the Fresh Market. This is what community is about.”

The CID and Chamber offices are right across the street from Fresh Market, formerly Snyder’s Grocery Store, on a stretch of Independence Avenue that will see many changes in the coming months.

“With Fresh Market donating all of this product to one of our local churches, who in turn is also donating to one of our local not-for-profits, the Healing House, this is true neighborhood community service,” said Bobbi Baker-Hughes, manager of the Independence Avenue CID. “That’s why we’re here, to be able to help get this loaded up and offloaded at those two organizations that in turn will help the community.”

Gathering Table plans to open a food pantry with the donation. They currently serve hot meals on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

“In our group of Lutheran churches, we’ve been assigned a mission of trying to feed people, as well as hand out supplies and keep people as healthy as possible in our area,” said Gathering Table volunteer Bruce Huffman. “Our clientele includes a huge percentage of homeless people. Basically, they’re donating a bunch of groceries to us for that purpose. We’re really thrilled about it.”

Throughout the pandemic, Gathering Table doubled the meals they served from 5,000 to over 10,000.

“We haven’t been able to have a food pantry because we didn’t have the resources,” Rundquist said. “Now we can have a pantry and people can pick up food and take it home with them, and it means a lot.”

She can’t yet measure the need the new food pantry will see, but estimates that at least 30 families a week will be helped. They have been supplementing around that number of families with USDA food boxes.

“We’ve been walking through church trying to figure out where we are going to put this, where it’s going to be convenient,” Rundquist said. 

The congregation just began hosting in-person worship in their sanctuary again, and they ultimately decided to put the food pantry in the sanctuary, too. Their services are on Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 10:30 a.m.

“My vision is that after worship, I can give everybody a sack and they can just fill it up with whatever they want,” Rundquist said.

When other organizations in the community are ready to store the dry and canned goods, Rundquist looks forward to sharing.

Christine’s Place, which is right across the street from the church, is one such organization. The drop-in women’s shelter provides meals, resources, safety and options for prostituted women in Northeast. It opened in December 2020, but isn’t quite ready to store the sizable donation with ongoing construction.

“Once that’s determined, of course, we’ll share with them, just like the other agencies that we invited here today, we’ll share,” Rundquist said.

Healing House, located at 4505 St. John, also received some of the donation for its nearly 200 residents in addiction recovery.

“We’re opening a new store, so we’d like to help out the community, bring as many people that used to shop at Snyder’s back to the new store, Fresh Market, and come and enjoy the store,” Zaben said.

The store has had a strong relationship with the Independence Avenue CID since the family opened their first business on the Avenue in 2016.

Zaben said so far, business has been good. The store opened with much fanfare on February 10 following a month-long closure to transition from the old Snyder’s to the new Fresh Market.

While their customer base is growing slowly, Zaben said they can’t complain because of the winter weather during their first full week open, which kept many people home.

“[We’ve seen] a lot of different faces, we’re enjoying it,” Zaben said. “It’s starting to pick up, and as you can tell, when it gets nicer outside people will start coming out, they like to shop a little bit more.”

Fresh Market is located at 2620 Independence Blvd., and is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.