Top Box expands reach in community after three years

Canela López, Staff Reporter

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On a hot, sticky day in July 2012, three young men with a mission to provide basic access to high-quality groceries to the city of New Orleans delivered their first box of produce to the True Love Missionary Baptist Church. Three years later, they’ve expanded their reach, delivering over 1000 boxes throughout New Orleans.

Those three young men, junior Sam Heyman, senior Connor Casas and senior Connor Deloach, started Top Box Foods New Orleans, a nonprofit that aims to provide fresh produce and lean meats at a low cost, particularly to those who do not have access to grocery stores in the neighborhoods.

Many neighborhoods in New Orleans are classified as food deserts  areas with very limited supermarket access  or as food swamps  areas with high concentrations of fast food restaurants and corner stores. For many residents in these areas, access to reasonably priced or even nearby grocery stores is nearly impossible.

That is where Top Box Foods steps in to lend a hand.

“Our customers at the end of the day can feel proud of what they bought without feeling ashamed that they spent so much money on it,” Sam Heyman, Top Box Foods co-founder and director of host site development and management, said. “We don’t believe that fruits and vegetables should be a luxury.”

Top Box Foods is not a charity. Customers purchase the food. According to Top Box, the groceries they provide are on par with the best supermarkets.

“It would be one thing if we were packaging secondhand produce, secondhand groceries, secondhand frozen lean meats, and selling them for half the cost that the grocery store sells them for…but it’s not what we want to do,” Heyman said.

Although Top Box Foods and other organizations like it are working hard to reduce the impact of living in a food desert, there is still much progress to be made. Areas of the city are still impacted by the effects of grocery store vacancies after Hurricane Katrina.

Heyman said that even grocery stores that didn’t close their New Orleans locations struggle to provide high-quality produce.

“If you want to see something crazy, go to the Winn-Dixie on Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans East and look at their produce section,” Heyman said. “It is absolutely despicable. I mean you have shelves that are not even stocked.”

Top Box has been steadily expanding its business and recently announced that it will be participating in the Propellor Impact Accelerator program, a mentorship opportunity specifically designed to help nonprofit ventures in growing their business by connecting them to other organizations and entrepreneurs.

Propellor is a nonprofit based in New Orleans with the goal of solving the city’s biggest issues, such as food distribution, water management, education and healthcare, through helping other nonprofit ventures to grow in order to specifically handle each of these issues. The main method used to help these nonprofits grow is the Propellor Impact Accelerator program.

The Accelerator will last three months, from September to December, and will end on Dec. 15. The ventures showing the most potential will move on to another four months of mentorship, focusing more on turning the ideas developed during the first accelerator into full-scale operations.

In previous years, the Accelerator was a year-long program that only focused on 15 nonprofits. Propeller Executive Director Andrea Chen stated that although this is the largest group of entrepreneurs the program has ever had, the new model allows for even more organizations to grow and help the city.

“We are excited to launch this year’s expanded Accelerator program, which will connect even more entrepreneurs with resources specifically tailored to their industry and needs,” Chen said.

For Top Box, participating in the program means a chance to work with other successful nonprofits and mentors such as Liberty’s Kitchen founder Janet Davas to increase their reach, improve their business model and become the organization they set out to be.

“What we want to do is offer everyone in the city of New Orleans, no matter the color of their skin, how much money they make, whatever it is, every neighborhood in New Orleans deserves to have fresh produce available to them and also frozen lean meats,” Heyman said.