Donation highlights the role of community support for local nonprofit

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Larry Pearlman presents a check to Bounty & Soul founder and director of programs, Ali Casparian, on behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Swannanoa Valley, Nov. 19. The church raised $3,200 for the Black Mountain nonprofit organization, which works to create a healthier community through nutrition and education.

Creating a healthier community isn’t easy, but that hasn’t stopped Bounty & Soul. Each week the Black Mountain nonprofit, through its five Produce to the People mobile markets, distributes more than 7,500 pounds of food to nearly 700 area residents at no cost, while its nutrition and wellness programs focus on educating patrons about the benefits of whole person health. 

However, none of that would be possible without the support of the very community Bounty & Soul serves, and a donation by a local church highlighted the role local institutions play in helping the organization fulfill its mission. 

Representatives from the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Swannanoa Valley presented Bounty & Soul founder and director of programs Ali Casparian with a check for $3,200 in the fellowship hall at St. James Episcopal Church, Nov. 19. 

“It really exemplifies what Bounty & Soul is, which is a community organization,” Casparian said of the donation. “Every partner, every volunteer, every donor and every participant has a voice in that. It speaks to how this organization sustains itself, by and for the community.”

In the five years since it was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Bounty & Soul has distributed 1.5 million pounds of food to more than 150,000 people in the Swannanoa Valley and beyond. Its weekly markets provide fresh produce, sourced from local growers and arranged in colorful displays. 

“Everyone has a part in raising up and creating a thriving community,” Casparian said. “Part of our model is that we bring in community partners and together we help each other, which benefits the community as a whole.”

The efforts of Bounty & Soul caught the attention of Larry Pearlman when he moved to the community more than two years ago. 

“One of the first things I did when I came to town was walk around to see what was going on,” said Pearlman, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Swannanoa Valley. “I walked down here and saw a sign that said ‘Bounty & Soul’ and I wondered what it was. This room was one of the first places I came when I moved here.”

Pearlman was eager to get involved, and became one of the nearly 13,000 volunteers to give their time to the organization. 

“We started planning a silent auction at the church and we knew half of that money would go to build a playground, but we had an idea for the other half,” he said. “So we voted and the congregation agreed that the best place to put the money would be right here in Bounty & Soul.”

Pearlman was joined by Rev. Michael J. S. Carter, minister of the Unitarian Universalist church and other members of the congregation in presenting the donation to Casparian. 

“We are proud to present this check to Bounty & Soul in support of their work in the community,” Pearlman said as staff, volunteers and market-goers erupted in applause. 

The gesture by the church was significant, according to Bounty & Soul Director of Community Engagement Karla Gardner.

“So many people do end-of-year fundraising and we encourage people to make an impact right here in the local community by giving to Bounty & Soul,” she said. “We do not receive any federal funding so we rely solely on donations and grants to provide these services.”

Local businesses offered their support for the organization by donating a percentage of profits on Shop Local Saturday, Nov. 30. Bounty & Soul encouraged supporters to participate in Giving Tuesday, a global initiative held the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving designed to create an international day of charitable giving. 

“We work and partner with local farmers and growers, and this is a time of year where we see a decrease in food supply,” Casparian said. “The needs in the community increase around this time of year. Not just for food, but there is a greater need for social connections. Many people look at this season as a time to gather around a table full of food with family, but for a lot of people that’s not the case.”

Bounty & Soul offers more than nutrition for people struggling during the winter months, according to Casparian. 

“We hear all the time that coming to our markets is the one day of the week where some of our clients come into a setting where they feel love and support,” she said. “So we address a lot of needs within our organization, because needs are different for different people.”

The support of volunteers and community partners allows Bounty & Soul to do more with less. 

“Each dollar donated turns into around $4.23 in community impact,” Casparian said. “We’re able to do that through not only the food we distribute, but also through the services we provide. That can be directly attributed to the support we receive.”