After months of advocacy to reopen, Anabel’s Grocery is open for students for the first time since last March — running with online shopping services, as well as increased outreach and food justice education.
Before the pandemic, Anabel’s operated as an in-person grocery store, as students trickled in to shop for its items and staff volunteered each week. Now, about 50 student volunteers work two hour shifts weekly to run the online store, and the store had 260 student orders placed in the first three weeks. With food insecurity and unemployment heightened by COVID-19, the reopening will allow for renewed access to less expensive food options on campus.
“We know that ordering online can create a lot of decision fatigue, or it can just be more difficult to shop for items, especially groceries that you can’t physically touch when you’re shopping online,” said Sarah Brice ’21, people and operations coordinator of Anabel’s Grocery.
Previously, Anabel’s only sold produce individually, but they now offer it in combination boxes, including vegetable, fruit and breakfast boxes. According to Brice, while the food is locally grown and high quality, the boxes are convenient and cheap
Many of these boxes, along with pantry items like eggs and tofu, have been selling out fast.
“Every week we’re pivoting to better serve the needs of our customers. So that’s pretty exciting,” Brice said.
The grocery store has also increased its product output, including sourcing more from Ithaca’s Wide Awake Bakery for cheaper prices than other markets. Without having to run the physical store, the student staff have had more freedom to work on the store’s logistics and online presence.
“Now we have students who like writing codes to make our receipt printing more efficient and are working on website development like they never had before, as well as really focusing on things like social media and other forms of online communication,” Brice said.
Beyond operating an online shop, Anabel’s Grocery has created the Food Justice Coalition this semester to build relationships with other justice-oriented organizations. Deana Gonzales ’21, coordinator of education and collaboration, hopes to work with on-campus and off-campus organizations to communicate the importance of food justice.
Gonzales has created a list of resources that Anabel’s and a regenerative agriculture group called RAFSC have combined, including grants, internships and projects different organizations are working on. The goal is to allow for students to get involved in a variety of food justice oriented clubs.
This project links together racial, food and climate justice. Using GroupMe, Anabel’s Grocery is in the process of adding different campus group leaders, such as the Black Farmer Fund, that can help create reciprocal relationships and work toward food justice solutions.
“Even when we’re making purchasing decisions, we are taking into account the inclusion of BIPOC farmers and the inclusion of smaller scale producers,” Brice said. “We do really believe in community and coalition building. I think the coalition in and of itself is sparking a lot of valuable conversations throughout a diverse range of student organizations.”
The student team spreads awareness about these new education projects with its active social media presence, blog and newsletter, as well as an anonymous survey that students can participate in.
To build a sense of community online, Anabel’s Grocery continues its weekly Saturday cooking classes on Zoom. Students can buy the boxes that contain ingredients for the class recipe and follow along.
“It’s not a formal or recorded event. The cooking classes are designed to improve your culinary skills in a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere,” Gonzales said.
Even though working through the pandemic has sparked some changes, Anabel’s student staff is excited to continue volunteering and giving back to the community.
“Our customers really love us,” Brice said. “They are very understanding and just appreciate the fact that a space like this exists on campus.”