Access to free, healthy food is just part of what Bounty & Soul does in the community

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The “bounty” in Bounty & Soul is evident instantly when you walk into one of its three public markets.

Fresh tomatoes, turnips, greens, bell peppers and a seemingly endless array of free, thoughtfully arranged food line tables and shelves, all offered by the Black Mountain nonprofit organization with a focus on health and wellness.

Bounty & Soul brings healthy food to the community, yes. But ask those who benefit from its services and they will tell you that the “soul” component is equally important.

Winfred Shytle attends St. James Episcopal Church and has been part of the Bounty & Soul community since it began back in 2012. He typically shows up at the church on Tuesday mornings around an hour or so before taking Bounty & Soul's yoga class. The organization offers the class through its “Rooted in Health” program, which focuses on educating participants about living a healthy lifestyle.

By noon June 20, when the health and wellness lesson concluded and the market opened, Shytle picked up fresh food with the agility of someone 20 to 30 years younger. The World War II veteran will be 91 on July 23.

He moved to Black Mountain when his wife passed away in 2010 to be closer to his daughter, longtime  (and former) Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry director Renae Brame. He was pretty despondent at the time.

“I didn’t want to feel good, I didn’t want to be happy. I wanted to be sad,” he said. “I didn’t think about myself, I just thought about my own sadness, the loss of my wife and how wonderful she was.”

He met Ali Casparian, founder of Bounty & Soul and the director of the organization's programs.

“She told me one day, ‘Winfred, you’re going to have to change, and not be so sad,’” he recalled. “I hadn’t thought about that before. I listened to her and she’s been so wonderful to me from then on. She taught me something that I didn’t know.”

What Shytle learned from Casparian was the value of focusing on his own wellness. So in his mid 80s he began focusing on starting over. And he’s learned a lot since then.

“I depended on my wife to cook, and she didn’t want me in the kitchen,” he said. “So I didn’t know anything about cooking.”

Access to the free services provided by Bounty & Soul have been life-changing for him. “Ali was so important to me because she paid attention to me early on and helped me physically and mentally,” he said.

Shytle was part of what Bounty & Soul executive director Bruce Ganger called an "almost-record crowd” at the St. James market June 20.

"Our weekly markets are reflective of who we are in the community," he said. "We have people from all walks of life - young, old, male, female, working, not working, families, individuals, all races - because that's who we are as a community. Hunger has no one demographic. It affects all of us."

Linda Medford has been relying on Bounty & Soul for several years. The access to quality to food is part of what keeps her coming back.

"I can't do without (Bounty & Soul) personally, I'm on a fixed income," the Black Mountain resident said. "I'm disabled and retired, so more than 80 percent of my food comes from here. Without it I'd be eating more processed food. A lot of us in the area have come to rely on it."

Like many of them, Medford gets a lot more out than food out of the program.

"The educational part of it is very important," she said of the 45-minute health and wellness lesson that takes place every Tuesday before the market. "I mean you could just come get food. But they also offer yoga and all of those components are very important to me. I learn something new every time I come. We learn to love our food."

Medford also participates in Bounty & Soul's "UGrow" program, which partners with the Black Mountain Recreation and Parks' "Eat Smart Black Mountain" program to teach people to grow food regularly.

"I'm killing my grass (to plant gardens)," she said. "I can't eat that stuff."

Marcela Jackson is relatively new to Bounty & Soul, having learned about the program at the YMCA in Asheville around four months ago.

"While I was there I picked up the brochure and I decided to come since they offered yoga," the West Asheville resident said. "Almost as soon as I started coming I wanted to volunteer."

Volunteers like Jackson are crucial to the success of Bounty & Soul, which is serving more than 700 people each week, according to Ganger.

"Ours is intentionally a very inclusive environment," he said. "We invite people to come, we invite people to ask questions, we invite them to reflect. What we create with that is a very safe environment where people feel like they matter."

Jackson's mother lives with her, and through Bounty & Soul they have been able to save money on groceries.

"It really gives us a chance to do a little bit more with what we have," she said.

Born in Panama, Jackson is bilingual and communicates freely in English and Spanish, depending on the comfort level of the person she is speaking to. She grew up in New York and lived in Miami for 42 years.

"I just took a trip to Cuba, and it was so enlightening," she said. "We have so much stuff here that goes to waste, but there they don't throw away anything. It really taught me to appreciate what I have and not take anything for granted."

It is often people like Jackson, people who have been directly impacted by Bounty & Soul, who feel inclined to volunteer their time to help, according to Ganger.

"We have participants who help us out at the markets regularly," he said. "They often come early to help us get set up and organized weekly. We have people who used to participate in the markets who are now donors to the program. A lot of people feel a sense of ownership of the program, because it's become such a key component of their lives."


Bounty & Soul markets

Bounty & Soul hosts three markets every week. All are open to the public.

Tuesday - St. James Episcopal Church

10:30 a.m. - Free gentle movement yoga class

11:15 a.m. - Health and wellness lesson

12 p.m. - Food distribution

Thursday - Charles D. Owen Middle School

4:15 p.m. - Healthy cooking class

5 p.m. - Food distribution

Friday - Black Mountain Elementary School

3:45 p.m. - Health and wellness lesson in cafeteria

4:30 p.m - Food distribution

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