This North Carolina Non-Profit Uses Retired School Buses As Mobile Food Pantries

You can join a virtual cooking class to contribute to the cause.

<p>Ripe For Revival</p>

Ripe For Revival

Flash back to peak pandemic, circa 2020 and 2021. With a large percentage of restaurants closed or pivoting only to service via takeout, countless pounds of milk, fruits and vegetables had to be dumped, plowed over or tossed due to disruptions in the supply chain. At the same time, millions of Americans were struggling to afford enough food to feed their families.

That excess supply was specifically earmarked and optimized to be delivered and used for food service and since it’s not as simple as flipping a switch to redirect the crops and dairy to a new market to serve home cooks, a wasteful and unfortunate reality set in. But rather than sit idly by and watch as his farmer neighbors had to lose money and squander the products they worked so hard to bring to life—and instead of seeing others in his community of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, (and beyond) go hungry—Will Kornegay decided to take action. 

<p>Ripe For Revival</p>

Ripe For Revival

Growing a More Connected Food System

Kornegay is the founder of Ripe Revival, a food development, manufacturing, storage and packing company. After years of working in the food industry, he had background intel about how our food system was designed—as well as how it could be to better serve both those who grow our food and those who need it.

By January 2022, Kornegay was ready to debut the non-profit branch of his company, Ripe For Revival, with a mission to “revive communities through food.”

“I wanted to use our company’s vast network of farmer and food industry relationships to address the many issues that lie in the gap between farm excess and food access,” Kornegay says.

Ripe For Revival was launched to act as a boots-on-the-ground way to mobilize the Ripe Revival community to play an active role in facilitating solutions to bridge that aforementioned gap.

“We saw a need to help farmers utilize perfectly healthy excess crops by using buses to take food to the communities that need it most,” Kornegay says.

They purchased “retired” city or school buses, renovated them to include refrigerators and freezers and transformed them into Mobile Markets that can drive into communities impacted by food apartheid. Ripe For Revival’s first market hit the road in June 2022 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

“Our goal is to provide fresh, local and affordable access to nutritious food regardless of anyone’s budget. We want to go to where the food comes from, and take it to where it’s needed,” Kornegay says. “We work with a lot of food banks who still have the challenges of getting food into areas where they don’t have brick-and-mortar locations.”

The pay-what-you-can Mobile Markets aim to make fresh and often local produce, proteins, dairy, eggs, and other food products accessible and affordable to all, regardless of their budget. Shoppers can pay any portion of the suggested total at the checkout, “giving them a dignified way to provide for their families or even pay it forward for another neighbor,” Kornegay explains. “Suggested prices for the food featured on the Mobile Markets are subsidized by donations and community partners, and average about 25 percent less than retail grocery store retail prices.”

Food-at-home costs increased by 11 to 12 percent, on average, across the U.S. in 2022 alone, according to USDA estimates. With that in mind, it seems that Ripe For Revival’s Mobile Markets arrived on the scene not a day too late to help fresh food be more attainable for all North Carolina residents, regardless of income level.

The non-profit currently owns, stocks and circulates four buses. By April 2023, they hope to ramp up to serving 80 sites across 20 counties in Eastern North Carolina. At each site and during one of their weekly stops, an average of 100 shoppers use the service. Multiply that by 80 sites and “this would result in 8,000 unique interactions per week or 416,000 per year. That translates to millions of pounds of food that is sourced from local partners and placed into homes in our community,” Kornegay says.

To date, the Ripe For Revival has partnered with dozens of local farmers and food producers and has already served an estimated 10,000+ families over 150,000 pounds of food. In 2023, they hope to tap into their improved data management software to hone in on the true return on investment and community impact, Kornegay confirms, adding that “the vision is to perfect the model where we live, and scale into every state nationwide.”

<p>Ripe For Revival</p>

Ripe For Revival

How You Can Help

As an avenue to spread the word about Ripe For Revival, as well as a way to raise additional funds to purchase more buses to serve even more communities, Kornegay and his team launched the Reviving the Supper Club Chef Series in late 2022. Hosted in partnership with local commodity boards, including the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission, as well as popular restaurant chefs across the state, anyone across the U.S. can take part in the virtual cook-alongs.

Purchase a ticket and the organizers will ship a box of fresh, North Carolina-grown produce and protein to recreate the same menu the all-star chef is whipping up during the livestream.

“Participants will take locally-sourced foods and create an elevated meal with the guidance of amazing chefs around North Carolina all from the comfort of their home. So far, we’ve traveled to Littleton, North Carolina to Blue Jay Bistro with chef Ashleigh Sherman, who brought her Texas flair to the kitchen and showed us how to make a sweet potato salsa using orange, white, and purple sweet potatoes that participants are still talking about,” Kornegay says.

Episode 2 showcased chef Jamie Davis of The Hackney in Washington, North Carolina, and tickets for the third supper club are available now through January 31 for the virtual event that’s being hosted on February 7. That night, chef Saif Rahman from Vidrio in Raleigh, North Carolina, will demonstrate how to ace pan-seared chicken with curried sweet potatoes and Carolina gold rice and Bengali tomato salad.

“A full 100 percent of the supper club’s net proceeds will support the Mobile Market program, and help to purchase additional food from local farmers to stock the bus,” Kornegay says.

Can’t make it this round? Keep an eye on the Reviving the Supper Club Chef Series website and follow @riperevival on Instagram to be the first to know about the next philanthropic feasts.

Let's all get cooking for a good cause.

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