North Carolina A&T is the nation’s largest historically black college or university (HBCU). The surrounding community has long battled hunger, repeatedly ranking itself as one of the worst food insecure areas in the United States over the past decade. The pandemic has only made matters worse. Additionally, more than a third of students in the United States are food insecure, and many HBCUs are found in food deserts with limited access to fresh, healthy food. “We’ve seen it so closely with our friends, like our close friends,” Williams says. “Every day they struggled with food insecurity. “
In 2019, the two high school students launched MarketBoxx to remedy this. Their organization buys wholesale groceries from places like Costco, then partners with college pantries – starting with A&T – to make sure their peers have enough to eat. They realized that students are often stuck with limited options during school vacations when cafeterias typically close and food services stop functioning.
“If you have a meal plan in place, it creates barriers for you to access food, so that’s when we really try to focus on distributing food to students.” says Wray, “because that’s when we know they really need it the most. This period of time is inconvenient for the students. “
Since its launch, Market Boxx has run campaigns at several other colleges, including nearby UNC Greensboro and other HBCUs around the state, such as North Carolina Central and Johnson C. Smith Universities. After graduation, Williams moved to Texas to work and MarketBoxx operations went with her. She recently set up a drive at Texas Southern University in Houston. “Our overall goal is to reach out to every HBCU,” said Williams.
There are many nonprofits and organizations working to reduce food insecurity across the country, but MarketBoxx is separate. He was born from the community he seeks to serve and is led by two black women who are currently graduate students, of an age close to the undergraduate students they support. This facilitated the extension to other historically black institutions.
“Because it came from us, it was easy,” says Williams. “I feel like it almost helps remove the stigma. You feel more comfortable and it’s more of a safe space because I look like you, we are the same person and I just feed you. I feel like there is no hesitation when we hand out free food. It’s just “I want a free box of food and that’s it.” My friends on campus give it to me. We have similar journeys. “
Wray agrees that being A&T alumni has opened doors for them. “If you tell someone who has been to FAMU that you have been to A&T, there is an HBCU community, and so I think that has also been very beneficial when it comes to serving other institutions. outside of A&T, ”she says.