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Photo provided via Michelle Ajamian.

Rural Action’s ‘Neighbor Loaves’ project cultivates meals for Athens residents in need

Since June of 2020, Rural Action has started an initiative making it easy to share a meal with an Athens resident in need. Rural Action’s Neighbor Loaves & Meals project has donated over 1,400 loaves of spelt bread and 200 meals as of May 2021. With room for growth, local businesses have teamed up to do their part in this project.

Local businesses like Casa Nueva, Kindred Market, Village Bakery and Athens Bread Company have collaborated with Rural Action to make this project possible. The project is not only able to support those in need but it also helps support local farmers and businesses.

Michelle Ajamian, network development manager of Rural Action’s Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative, said the project started when there was a realization of a need for a greater impact.

“I've been convening a group of national partners, who are food system leaders that work around grains and other staple foods, and, because COVID, all of our conversations online, which was great, because it made it possible for lots of us from around the country to get together,” Ajamian said.

On one of the calls they talked about the Neighbor Loaves & Meals project and Ajamian suggested all members of the call start a project in their region. After the decision of starting the project, it was time to find participating businesses.

Thom Hirbe, food and beverage operations coordinator at Casa Nueva, said Casa became involved with the initiative when it was brought to the staff’s attention that some people were experiencing hardships with their food due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hirbe said the project has been rewarding to watch members of the Athens area participate, showing they care for others’ well-being. He said it’s not something seen in many places outside of Athens.

“Just as Casa Nueva has tried to support our community by sourcing local ingredients whenever we can and providing fresh, healthy menu items to our customers, it's truly heartening and speaks a great deal about our customer base when they purchase a ‘Neighbor Loaves and Meals’ item that gets distributed to an individual in need,” Hirbe said in an email.

Riley Kinnard, general manager at Kindred Market, said she is excited to see what will come from this project and believes anyone should participate if they can.

“It supports three different channels of the food system in one small action,” Kinnard said. “It's a really creative way to tie these things together.”

The three different channels include the support of local residents, local farmers and local business – a trifecta of goodness.

Kinnard said she encourages people to take part in this project because the involvement is easy to do. The donation can be made via an online ordering system, depending on the business, or simply by asking in the store.

“I think we are accustomed to getting online and buying various things that we like,” Ajamian said. “In this case, while you're making an order at Village Bakery, Kindred or Casa, you can also add to your order – add something to your order that’s going to go to someone else – think of it as a tip.”

Ajamian said the extra meal is like a tip to one’s local residence, and she encourages everyone to enjoy local food while helping local residents. She said she hopes more people are made aware of this project and more areas in Appalachian Ohio and beyond start something like it. 

Every business specifies a menu item that can be added on as a donation. Casa Nueva has vegetarian chili, Kindred Market has a black bean burger, Village Bakery has sliced whole grain spelt bread and Athens Bread Company has sliced sourdough red fife bread. Once ordered, the business will do the cooking and make sure the menu items arrive to the rightful person.

The involved businesses and Rural Action are working towards projects that will contribute to the greater goods of Athens. Hirbe and Kinnard are proud to have their businesses involved with Neighbor Loaves & Meals, and they encourage everyone to involve themselves as well. 

“I'd like to encourage everybody who loves to enjoy local food to make an order for local food for people who don't often have access to it,” Ajamian said.


Kayla Bennett

Managing Editor

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