When Brenda Sanders and her vegan company collective, PEP Foods, visited West Baltimore to conduct a series of cooking workshops, they realized the gravity of the situation there. West Baltimore, like millions of other U.S. cities, is smack dab in the middle of a food desert. Fast food restaurants and convenience stores selling packaged products can be found on almost every corner, but grocery stores with fresh fruit, produce, and healthy plant-based options are few and far between.

A report last summer from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future actually found that 34 percent of African Americans in the city of Baltimore lived in food insecure areas. Due to the limitation of fresh, high-quality food, residents of West Baltimore welcomed Sanders and her team with much excitement. Requests for Eating For Life, a series of workshops held throughout the city that teach how to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, has tripled since PEP began the initiative. Unfortunately, once the workshop finished, participants felt they couldn’t access the ingredients they now desired to cook with.

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Seeing the great demand for fruit, vegetables, and affordable vegan products, Brenda Sanders decided that in addition to adopting five vacant lots for community gardens, she would take the program to the next level. She began developing a plan for a 1,000-square-foot space that would allow PEP Foods, a group of influential, vegan companies that already have extensive food product lines, to produce and distribute products to the convenience and corner stores that pervade the area. PEP would also rent out extra kitchen space to other vegan food makers for $20 an hour, as well as provide a meeting space for workshops, movie screenings, and events.

“A lot of people think that poor people don’t care about their health, and that could not be further from the truth,” Sanders told TakePart, “Poor people feel disenfranchised. They feel hopeless. But there’s no place where I’ve gone in to do these workshops where people weren’t excited. They’re lining up and packing the room.”

While bringing cooking workshops and fresh food initiatives to low-income neighborhoods is not exactly new, PEP Inc. differentiates itself by truly attacking the problem at every level. Some companies provide neighborhoods with exciting, and enriching workshops, but leave them to fend for themselves when it comes to getting the actual ingredients, and cooking the dishes in their own homes. Now participants can plant, cultivate, grow, and cook the different cuisines they are learning about.

In about three months time, PEP will debut the new storefront, and the residents of West Baltimore will be able to acquire products that are not only convenient and affordable but beneficial to their health and the planet! Sounds like a win all around!

If you’d like to donate to the cause, visit PEP Food’s website.

Lead Image Source: Rick/Flickr