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Nonprofit Matthew 25 opens affordable grocery store in Cedar Rapids food desert


Clint Twedt-Ball, executive director of Matthew 25, poses in front of the Cultivate Hope Corner Store produce refrigerator. — Malcolm MacDougall/Little Village

The grand opening of Matthew 25’s new Cultivate Hope Corner Store will take place this Wednesday, April 27 in Cedar Rapids. The Corner Store is a nonprofit endeavor, providing healthy food in a local food desert — an area of town lacking nearby sources of fresh, affordable food.

Cultivate Hope Corner Store had its soft opening on April 6, and has been selling fresh produce, rotisserie chicken, locally sourced meat, dry goods, cleaning products, and frozen and canned goods. The store will also sell low-priced, freshly prepared meals made by the chefs from the Groundswell Cafe, also owned by Matthew 25.

“Our goal is to make food access, especially healthy food access, easier for this neighborhood and this community,” said Mark Elias, the store manager and senior director for Cultivate Hope.

Store hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The building at 604 Ellis Blvd NW includes a community gathering space, where Matthew 25 plans to offer classes and tutorials for neighborhood residents interested in improving their food preparation and preservation skills.

“This is a grocery store that’s for all people,” said Clint Twedt-Ball, co-founder and executive director of Matthew 25. “You can find organic food, you can find conventional food, find free food. And you can find community with people that are going to gather here and have coffee together. And I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want.”

The space was used as a food pantry after the derecho, closing down for a renovation period for the first months of 2022. Some of the changes to the building included replacing a section of the wall with automatic doors, adding windows to the southeastern corner of the store and repainting the inside.

“When we kind of laid this business plan out for people and said we wanted to do this grocery store, everybody has been like, ‘that’s absolutely needed,'” Twedt-Ball explained. “And they’ve stepped up. We raised $1.4 million over the course of a year.”

The store, like the Groundswell Cafe, also offers a pay-it-forward option where shoppers can opt to round up their purchases to assist those who have difficulty paying their grocery bills. Cultivate Hope also has plans in place to offer free grocery delivery to neighborhood residents.

“We wanted to have something that [helps] people that might be in greater need, stretch their food dollars,” Elias said. “We felt like produce was the one item that pretty much anyone would agree that it’s probably one of the best things that you can have for yourself as far as nutrition and health values.”

Cultivate Hope Corner Store offers free produce to supplement customers’ purchases. — Malcolm MacDougall/Little Village

Cultivate Hope’s staff is a mix of volunteers and paid employees.

“We want to be able to be earning enough revenue that we can pay our employees,” Elias said. “We do have a paid staff, and we will utilize the volunteer help as well. But we felt it was important to be able to provide jobs for people in this neighborhood, and the majority of the people that work in this store actually live in this neighborhood.”

The initial response from the community has been generally positive, according to the employees.

“Both my husband and I grew up with neighborhood grocery stores,” said Charlotte Burton, an eight-year neighborhood resident living in the Meth-Wick Retirement Community, and a volunteer for Matthew 25. “It becomes family. They know you, you know them.”

The grand opening celebration on Wednesday will start at 7:45 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and will be attended by Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell, the Economic Alliance and other guests, followed by all-day discounts and deals. The festivities continue with a celebration at 4 p.m. featuring free food, an opportunity to meet local vendors, music and giveaways.

Matthew 25 is currently hiring for a team leader, as well as looking for volunteers to staff the store.


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