As she left with a bag full of discounted groceries, Noreen Phillips said she’s been a frequent visitor to the Community Engagement Center in Poppleton, which opened in October.
Run by the University of Maryland, Baltimore, the center is where Phillips said she’s picked up some tips for conflict resolution and learned about becoming a vegetarian. It’s also where she’s found a supportive ear when she’s needed one.
“They help you when you need someone to talk to, to keep you out of trouble,” she said.
On Tuesday, Phillips came for weekly discount food market run by the nonprofit Baltimore Gift Economy.
“I really don’t have enough money to go to the grocery store,” said Phillips, who lives in Woodlawn and has a housekeeping job with the university. “It really helps me out, week by week.”
The center is part of the university’s ongoing effort build a stronger relationship with the communities that surround it. Plans were in the works before the death of Freddie Gray, but last year’s unrest has only reinforced the center’s importance, officials said.
The center also provides exercise classes, children’s play groups, computer access and free legal clinics.
“I do everything here,” said Cassandra Fair of Poppleton, who visited the market with her grandson on Tuesday “I come to the market. When they have nutrition classes I come to those. The exercise classes, I come to those.
“The people in the community need different resources around here,” she continued. “This is one of the places that offers [them].”
The groceries available Tuesday were spread out over a few folding tables and included snack items, tortilla wraps, chicken, even cheesecake – it’s all perfectly edible, donated by local retailers. Next to the groceries were a few piles of neatly-folded clothing that’s being given away for free. If not for the market, everything would end up in a dumpster.
“They’re removing them from the waste stream and allowing community members to use them,” said Bill Joyner, community engagement coordinator with the university.
The three-year-old Baltimore Gift Economy runs a similar market in Edmondson Village on Mondays, and launched its Tuesday market in Poppleton at the beginning of March.
Much of their supply comes from organic food stores and would otherwise be too expensive for their customers, said Ulysses Archie Jr., who co-founded the organization with his wife, Chysalinn. So far, about 30 families per week shop at the Tuesday market, he said.
“You can’t go to an organic food market, give them five dollars, and come out with a bag of groceries,” Archie said. “That’s the value we give to people.”