Remarks at Whole Foods Market’s Global Gathering

Whole Foods Market’s Global Leadership Team convened in New Orleans this week for their annual gathering. They visited and toured the ReFresh site, and Liberty’s Kitchen’s Director Dave Emond had the opportunity to address the group of 200. Read his remarks below about the innovative partnership between Whole Foods Market (WFM) and its Broad Street store and Liberty’s Kitchen (LK) at the ReFresh Project.


Isaiah Institute Peace Brunch 2

Remarks to Whole Foods Market Leadership

March 10, 2015

New Orleans youth face a stark reality. Census data reveal that there are 30,000 New Orleans youth ages 16-24 who are disconnected from both work and school. The institutions that should be there to support them – education, criminal justice, and sometimes even the family unit – have broken down. Our city experienced 150 murders last year, the vast majority of which were young black males killing other young black males. The health picture is no better. Children in poverty are seven times more likely to be in worse health conditions. 46% of African American youth in New Orleans live in poverty vs. 15% of white children. Louisiana has the highest obesity rate in the nation, and one out of every three Louisiana children is likely to develop diabetes in their lifetime.

In response to these immense problems, Liberty’s Kitchen arose as an INTERVENTION for New Orleans vulnerable youth.

We exist to support and enable bright and healthy futures for EVERY young person, and we achieve our mission through two complementary programs.

Our YOUTH DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM is a yearlong intensive PERSONAL intervention. We serve 16-24 year olds who are disconnected from both school and work, equipping them with the skills, resources, and confidence to become employed, stable, and connected. Our youth report the following challenges:

  • 70% report have experienced trauma or abuse
  • 62% face chronic homelessness
  • 39% are raising children

According to a study recently released by Loyola University, trafficking and exploitative labor among opportunity youth have reached epidemic status:

  • 30% have been sex workers
  • 14% have been victims of human trafficking

Our program includes four months of daily intensive services – life skills, supportive services, hospitality industry training, professional development, and job placement – followed by eight months of routine follow up with incentivized participation including biweekly skill reinforcement, continuing education, and advanced training. In our first five years we have served more than 350 young people. In our new home at ReFresh, we will double our capacity, serving up to 160 youth annually.

Our SCHOOL NUTRITION PROGRAM is a SUPPLY CHAIN intervention. We partner with New Orleans College Prep to ensure that their students are healthy and well-nourished. At the three schools where we work, 97% of students qualify for free and reduced price lunch and 95% are African American. We make everything from scratch, use no disposable products in the delivery of our food, and prepare everything on site at the schools, making the foodservice staff an important and valued member of the school community. The students in our schools are empowered in areas like menu development through taste testing and other initiatives aimed at getting them invested in in healthy food. This year we are feeding 1,300 students 3-4 meals per day, for a total of about 4,000 fresh, healthy meals served daily. Within three years, we will scale this program to reach twice as many students, preparing and serving more than 8,000 meals daily.

Every effective social enterprise owes its existence to a visionary founder, and I’m excited that we have our founder, Janet Davas with us today. Janet moved on from Liberty’s Kitchen last year, handing the reins to me as she launched a new venture to help people in other communities replicate our model and achieve other social enterprise goals.

One of Janet’s greatest achievements was engaging John Elstrott (Chairman) and Walter Robb (CEO) of Whole Foods, both of whom bought into her vision and have helped us build capacity through this incredible partnership. Today, Ernest Roy and the Broad Street Store Team are helping us turn thoughts into action to achieve measurable impact for a community in need. And for years, Kristina Bradford has gone above and beyond the call as a Liberty’s Kitchen board member, helping us at a critical point of growth. To borrow a phrase from Whole Foods’ founder, we truly believe this partnership is becoming a “win6” for all stakeholders, shining a light on the potential for meaningful social impact through innovative strategies.

What does WFM do for us?

  • Hires graduates
  • Provides externship opportunities for our students
  • Gives us access to WFM supply chain at your prices
  • Bulk Food production partnership – we are currently producing five items (three salad dressings, a gumbo base, and vegetarian redbeans) under the LK label for sale on WFM’s prepared foods bar. And we are preparing to launch cookies and brownies. These items generate steady, predictable revenue for LK as they also create training opportunities for our youth.
  • In store tastings – to promote awareness of LK among WFM customers
  • Store tour for YDP students – shopping on a budget
  • Christmas tree giveaway
  • Leftover flowers donated
  • WFM team members to presentations/demonstrations – fish filleting, butchering, etc.
  • Provide food for LK staff/student events

What does LK do for WFM?

  • Provide entry level labor
  • Supply high quality food items for sale at Broad Street Store
  • Provide cold storage space for large quantity seasonal items like holiday pies
  • Provide dining/kitchen space for WFM healthy eating and other community events

In addition to our partnership with Whole Foods, we have developed new partnerships with other ReFresh Project tenants like Tulane’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine. As a result of our collaboration we’ve also been introduced to other mission-aligned companies, like Swerve Sweetener, who are helping us make our menu healthier, provide nutrition instruction for our students, and engage our constituents more effectively.

Our revenue model is the envy of many in the not-for-profit sector, with our four business lines (café, catering, wholesale, and school nutrition) currently generating two-thirds of our $3.8M budget.

We will be opening a second retail location in partnership with the New Orleans Public Library and Broadmoor Improvement Association later this month, and we’re excited about the work we will continue to do with and on behalf of New Orleans youth.

At Liberty’s Kitchen we exist for one purpose and one purpose only – and that’s to change lives. By embracing our mission and helping us to advance it, Whole Foods is playing a critical role in fostering an opportunity revolution where EVERY child gets a chance to thrive.

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