Summer Internship with Top Box Foods by Kelsey Scurlock

Top Box Foods New Orleans is a non-profit organization based in New Orleans that aims to alleviate the problem of food inequality in the city. New Orleans is known as the United States’ largest food desert. The American Nutrition Association defined food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas”.[1] This is largely due to the fact that some places are scarce on grocery stores and food markets. The Lower Ninth Ward is known as the city’s most affected area because it takes three bus stops to get to the nearest grocery store and many residents do not own cars. Areas like the Lower Ninth Ward are what categorize New Orleans as the largest food desert in the country. Top Box Foods aims to alleviate these problems by providing affordable, healthy, and high-quality foods to New Orleans residents. The organization also encourages community growth through giving 5% of all proceeds back to the partner sites.

top box logoThough the branch of Top Box Foods I work for is located in New Orleans, the organization actually was founded in Chicago by Chris Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy. The organization launched in May of 2012 after he resigned from the Merchandise Mart located in Chicago. Chris worked in agriculture his whole career. He eventually became president of Merchandise Mart and ran it for 25 years. Many people assumed Kennedy would run for governor after he retired from his job. However, when he made a special announcement after his retirement, he introduced the organization Top Box Foods. Top Box Foods Chicago has been active for three years now. The organization decided to start a branch in New Orleans when Connor Casas, a friend of Chris Kennedy’s son, decided to go to Tulane University. Casas discussed with Chris about how New Orleans would really benefit from an organization like Top Box Foods. Therefore, Top Box Foods New Orleans started in July of 2013. This July, we are celebrating our 2nd anniversary. Since Top Box Foods New Orleans was founded by college students, donors very much so helped to start the organization. The Kennedy family contributed funds and many other wealthy New Orleans residents contributed funds to the starting of Top Box Foods in New Orleans.

topbox

                The structure of Top Box is very important for the organization to be successful. The most important aspect of the organization is the produce. Top Box has a produce supplier that is located in Baton Rouge. The supplier is Capital City Produce. The supplier supplies the produce in all of our boxes. Top Box currently has seven boxes. The boxes are family, small family, vegetable, fruit, steak, chicken, and fish boxes. Sometimes we have seasonal boxes such as the New Year’s Resolution box and the Easter box. Top Box buys the food at wholesale prices and then arranges them into different boxes. The total contents of the boxes are at the most 60% cheaper than if you bought the same foods from a grocery store. The Top Box New Orleans staff consists of about five Tulane students who are in charge of different aspects of the company. Top Box can also expect two or three student interns each semester. Some staff members attend churches during the weekend and give a presentation on how the organization works. They then hand out order forms for anyone who is interested in buying the boxes. Top Box finds delivery locations that are in close range to all churches being served in the communities involved. Most of the time the delivery location is a church. Once Top Box receives all of the order forms for the month, a staff member sends the forms to the supplier so the supplier will know how many boxes to bring to the delivery sites on the second Saturday of each month. Most of our customers come from low-income communities which we assumed would be the case because the food desert mostly affects low-income communities. Many of our customers also attend church since that is our main way of promoting the organization. We do, however, have many Tulane students ordering boxes because Tulane students run the organization and we have a delivery location within walking distance from campus.

Top Box Foods makes money to keep it running through donations and by selling the foods at a very small profit margin. Sam Heyman explained to me in detail how Top Box is able to run due to low costs. “Top Box has no overhead costs. They Receive office space for free from Café Reconcile and none of the directors or volunteers are paid at this point. The only costs Top Box incurs are those of buying the boxes, shipping them, and delivering them”. So far this system has kept the organization running smoothly but some heads of the organization are looking into raising more revenue by putting ads on fliers. The organization would like to make more profits and expand some departments of the organization. The organization also does a great job of letting their finance interns gain some experience. The interns get to communicate with local banks, write checks for the partner sites, and do accounting work for the organization. Also, I get to help collect forms of payment and record them. Top Box accepts cash, checks, credit card, debit cards, and even SNAP food stamps. All organizations mostly run on money so interning with this non-profit is very beneficial to any finance major.

A great aspect of Top Box Foods is that it relies on the help of volunteers. The boxes are delivered on the second Saturday of each month. Since there are about only 7 staff members this summer, we rely on college students to volunteer with us on delivery days. We need volunteers to find the boxes customers ordered and bring them to their car. We have had about twenty volunteers each month this summer. Volunteering is a great way for students to be involved in the community and explore a bit of New Orleans.

[1] http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts

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