Bounty & Soul seeks more food donations amid growing need and decreasing supply

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Bounty & Soul provides healthy food to approximately 850 families per week.

Black Mountain-based nonprofit Bounty & Soul provides fresh produce and other healthy staples to Buncombe and McDowell counties throughout three markets per week.

These markets are part of the organization's Produce to the People program, and serves approximately 850 families per week, according to interim executive director Paula Sellars.

Sellars said Bounty & Soul has what she calls three pillar programs, the first of which being Produce to the People.

“First and foremost we are a food and health equity organization,” Sellars said. “We work to improve the health and well-being of our participants through food and education.”

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Benevolent Box is a program within Produce to the People that sees Bounty & Soul volunteers bringing market food to the homes of those who are not able to attend those markets due to medical, transportation or language barriers. Sellars said this program serves around 75 families each week.

Bounty & Soul hosts drive-through markets in the old Bi-Lo parking lot in Black Mountain.

In addition to Produce to the People, Bounty & Soul also provides health education through a program called Rooted in Health. The final pillar, called Farmers Alliance, involves Bounty & Soul purchasing food and receiving donations from local farmers. The organization also send volunteers to these farms to help plant and harvest.

Sellars said these purchases and donations from local farmers are becoming increasingly important. In the past, many food donations came from local grocery retailers from any excess food they retailer may have ordered.

Now, Sellars said, the donations have become less frequent for a variety of reasons. She said participation in Bounty & Soul's programs are up 280% from pre-COVID levels, but food donations are down 53%.

Sellars said some of the reasons for the decreasing food donations are the fact that other food pantries are also asking for donations now, as well as grocery retailers changing their ordering patterns to reduce waste.

“While that’s a good thing, especially in response to climate change and things like that, it creates a quandary for nonprofits that distribute that food that is normally donated,” Sellars said.

Sellars said she has also heard finding drivers and paying for the transportation of food is also a contributing factor as prices continue to rise.

She said she does not see the amount of donations from grocery retailers changing anytime soon.

Bounty & Soul provides food for around 850 families per week at three drive-through markets in the old Bi-Lo parking lot in Black Mountain.

“We’re almost three times the amount of participation we had pre-COVID and we’re down 53% on food donations so there’s a gap between people and food that wasn’t there before that we don’t think the donated food from grocery retailers is going to change in a positive direction,” Sellars said. “We think, if anything, this reduction in food donations is probably a trend that’s going to continue.”

Sellars said to fill this gap, Bounty & Soul is looking toward their farming program and donations from organizations like MANNA Food Bank.

Because of the increase in participation in their programs, Sellars said Bounty & Soul has been purchasing more food than ever before in the organization’s history. Grants, such as one from Buncombe County Strategic Partners, helps fund these purchases.

Sellars said the work Bounty & Soul does would not be possible without the team behind it.

“Despite all of these changes, we have a team at Bounty & Soul right now that’s very committed to the community and puts a lot of heart into everything we do,” Sellars said. “While we’re facing some of these challenges, we’re very motived.”

Sellars said Bounty & Soul is working on becoming a organization that is reliant on donations from retailers to one that is able to work directly with farms.

“It’s an exciting challenge to have to figure out how to bridge that gap between participants and food,” Sellars said. “If we can do that by supporting local farms, then that’s a win-win for the whole community.”