August 6, 2021
Marion Henson, born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York, has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. But after securing a spot with the Westchester County Office of Economic Development’s Launch1000 program—as well as a no-interest loan from the microlending organization Kiva—she was able to found her first venture, Bloom Healthy. The New Rochelle-based pop-up provides fresh fruits and vegetables for the community and even boasts a “pay it forward with kindness” option, so customers can buy a box for a family in need. “I want as many people who can pay it forward as possible to pay it forward,” says Marion. “I had one person go on to the website and literally order six boxes to pay it forward. And I’m just like, ‘Okay, that’s what I want to happen in this space.’” Read on to learn more…
As Told To Ace Natural
I was born and raised in Mount Vernon, so [I’ve lived here] 36 years. I’ve lived in a food desert pretty much my entire life and didn’t realize it. And the only reason I didn’t realize it is because my mom and my dad busted their butts to make sure we had fresh fruits and vegetables in the house. My father’s from Georgia, raised in Miami, came to New York, and that’s a farm family in the backdrop. My mom is from the Caribbean and my mom’s father had a farm when she was growing up. So they were not going to allow us to grow up without access to those healthy items.
My husband lost his job in 2017, right after I gave birth to my four-year-old. So she was only a couple months old and I realized, “Oh my God, we are in a food desert. We don’t qualify for any [form of assistance] because my husband made too much when he was working. How are we going to do this?” Our family and friends knew that we were struggling, but we didn’t ask for any help. I didn’t go to a food bank because I honestly couldn’t stand in the line and do that whole routine. My mom somehow sensed it and would knock on the door, drop off groceries right on my stairs, and walk away. So God bless her.
Then I realized how many people are in this weird position where they don’t necessarily qualify for SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program]. They’re not going to stand in a food bank line, but they are struggling. They’re having one meal or no meal so their kids can eat. This past November, I said, “Okay, I’m starting this. I’m going to cook meals for people and deliver them.” Then it pivoted to, “Oh no, you’re not cooking meals for people and delivering it, you’re going to do a food bank.” And it was like, “Oh no, you’re not doing a food bank. You’re doing a grocery pop-up because you really want to get fresh fruits and vegetables to everyone.” [I named the pop-up] Bloom Healthy because I want future generations to actually bloom healthier than we are. I want them to be healthier physically, mentally, emotionally.
We got our first order of fruits and vegetables from Ace last week and people were gawking over it. I have a couple of people who asked for papaya, so I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll get you guys papaya.” The really cool thing is that I’m able to listen to what people in the community need and then figure out how to get those things—things that they can’t go to the grocery store and get, or find easily. I’m getting so many comments from the customers who picked up and the people who received the boxes for free. They’re like, “Oh my God, everything tastes so amazing. It’s so fresh.” They love the mangoes. They love avocados.
My husband does not like vegetables and I made him rainbow carrots last night. I cut the carrots up with garlic and butter. And he was like, “Every carrot tasted different. I liked it!” And that’s the goal. I want to convert more people. I want kids to know that instead of grabbing the bag of chips, they can cut up a sweet potato and air crisp it and have sweet potato chips. Add a little bit of sea salt, you’re ready to go.
From this pop-up grocery, the larger goal is to have a grocery store that everyone can shop at and no one knows who’s paying what. People walk in, they’ve already signed up for the application, they’ve been identified as food insecure, they do their shopping trip just like everyone else does their shopping trip, they check out. There’s going to be one store card that everyone uses that allow people to pay with whatever payment they choose, and those who can’t will be subsidized through the “pay it forward with kindness” model, grants, and donations. The card would allow that to happen since it would be store-issued; no one would really know the attached payment option. Some people are paying, some people are not, but no one knows. I don’t think anyone needs to know.
I think that every role I’ve ever had in the past—whether it was in customer service, or doing digital marketing, or working in a salon—I felt like I was always listening to what people were going through and trying to provide a solution. And I always feel like food is a love language and food is medicine. [I don’t want people to feel] like they’re getting a handout. No one knows who’s getting their box for free. Everyone just comes in and says, “I’m here for pickup,” and gives me their name. There is no way to tell if that person paid for a box or didn’t pay for a box. When you leave [Bloom Healthy], you feel better and you feel like you were seen, you were heard, you were loved, you were understood. When [customers] walk into the space, I want them to know that whatever’s going on out there for this second, whatever you need, I’m here. There is this love in a box.
You can visit Bloom Healthy at 595 Main St. in the Center for the Arts building in New Rochelle on Wednesdays and Fridays until September 15th. Check out their website to order a box of organic fruits and vegetables for yourself or pay it forward to a family in need. Little Bloom boxes can be purchased for $35. You can learn more here.