Ali Casparian went from food insecure to a leader in the fight for food security.
Ali Casparian holding a basket with fresh veggies
Credit: Johnny Autry

This woman's story shows that we all can lend a helping hand in making healthy foods accessible for all. For her, the idea took off in ways she never could have predicted.

Who She Is

Ali Casparian was barely scraping by. Like one in six people in the Black Mountain region outside of Asheville, North Carolina, she faced food insecurity. Free community lunches hosted by a local nonprofit became a lifeline. And Casparian (who worked in the food industry before she fell on hard times) soon began volunteering at the meals as a cook. When she heard her local food bank was struggling to give away surplus produce before it spoiled, she had an idea.

What She Did

Casparian asked if she could distribute the produce at that week's community lunch. The food bank readily agreed. Emulating what she saw at farmers' markets, ­Casparian spread out a tablecloth and arranged the vegetables neatly in baskets on top. ­After lunch, she invited diners to "shop" for whatever they wanted. Not one carrot remained. That was the start of Bounty & Soul, Casparian's nonprofit. Today, her team of six employees and 350 volunteers run five fresh "food markets" each week, including one at a senior center and one at a child care facility. Shoppers can take home produce that was gleaned and donated from local farms, super­markets and that original food bank. Bounty & Soul also hosts programs (in English and Spanish), such as cooking demos, health counseling and Zumba and yoga classes.

Why It's Cool

All the food and services Bounty & Soul provides to the over 850 people it serves each week are free—and there is no income requirement. Since 2014, the organization has distributed over 1.5 million pounds of produce. And the folks who come to the markets, ranging from young families to seniors, are getting healthier. TaTanisha Davis, a 41-year-old single mother, has lost over 250 pounds since Casparian's team helped her make lifestyle changes like eating a plant-based diet. "I couldn't afford to be healthy without them," Davis says. And because Bounty & Soul relies on local agencies, food banks and volunteers working together, Casparian says its cooperative model can be replicated elsewhere. She hopes more communities follow her lead. "Access to healthy food is a right, not a ­privilege," she concludes.

Check out more inspiring stories like these at Food With Purpose.

The Giving Table | EatingWell November 2019