RALEIGH, N.C. — Food insecurity has heightened during the pandemic, which means more and more families are turning to food banks. One Durham man saw the increased need and decided to expand his nonprofit by delivering groceries to some of Raleigh’s most underserved neighborhoods.
Marcus Harris is an author, poet, dad, and founder of the Marcus Harris Foundation. Harris's nonprofit recently launched a program known as Neighborfood Express. He says the goal is to, "Eliminate food insecurity in the lives of the families that we are helping."
"I just felt like I have always been helped in situations when I was in need, by people who didn’t even think twice. So I always felt like I owe it to pay it forward somehow," Harris says.
Neighborfood Express is a free food distribution program. Every week, Harris and other volunteers spend time grocery shopping for dozens of families.
“Volunteers, particularly for Neighborfood Express, are the lifeblood of how the whole thing runs," Harris says. “My ultimate goal is to help them so much that we don’t need them anymore."
However, just giving families food isn’t always enough to lift people out of poverty. The foundation offers all kinds of resources with the hope of creating a broad network of support.
"So that’s accomplished by taking them the free food, as well as connecting them with the different agencies that can help them with employment, housing, giving them the free computers for their kids to bridge the digital divide, as well as any other support that we can give them," Harris says.
The program’s volunteers help with those efforts as well.
"They help us with picking up the books, as well as the vegetables from the farms and they also do all the routes for us when they take the food and supplies out to the families. So without them, we could not do this," Harris says.
Lieza Capiz recently started volunteering with Neighborfood Express.
"Growing up in a third-world country, I was born and raised in the Philippines, and I’ve been exposed to and seen a lot of poverty and a lot of children not having the resources they need, especially food," Capiz says.
She spends about an hour on the weekend delivering bags of groceries to families enrolled in the program, often leaving them by the front door to minimize contact.
"This pandemic happened for a reason, so that we can then realize that we’ve taken things for granted a lot, and this is a good reminder to be human again and just care for others," Capiz says.
When she’s not volunteering, Capiz works on vaccine research at Duke University, but helping out her community is her outlet.
"It’s therapy. Yes, therapy, and I need it. It’s not only helpful to the other person, but also helpful to me to make me be reminded that I should appreciate everything that I have," Capiz adds.
Even though she may never meet all of the families she’s helping, Capiz says she knows she’s making a difference.
"I think every little thing that you do for others, no matter how big or small it is, will make an impact. It may not be now, but later on in life they will remember the kindness that you brought them," she says.
Harris says he’s also planning to open a “free grocery store” in Raleigh this year. He says the concept is different than a food pantry because it won’t have a limited selection and it will feel like a regular store.
Click here to learn how to get free groceries, how to volunteer with Neighborfood Express, or how to donate.