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New Cafe & Market To Serve Public; South Side Residents

Reeb Avenue Community Center
Columbus Neighborhoods: South Side
The Reeb Avenue Community Center will be home to Roots Cafe and Market on the South Side of Columbus.

As the head of the Mid-Ohio Food Bank for more than thirty years, Matt Habash thought his job feeding hungry people would be finished by now. Instead, it's getting bigger. The agency's latest venture: South Side Roots Café and Market.

  Open to everyone, the South Side Roots Café and Market will be part of the newly renovated Reeb Avenue Center on the city's south side. Mid-Ohio Food Bank Director Matt Habash said South Side Roots will specialize in fresh food and produce.

"It's not that big a space. You've got to think of an old school building and we're in the garden level. So it's the lower level with windows and we have a space to have a café and to cook meals for folks to come in and have lunch. And then we have a market in there that we're hoping to have low cost food in," Habash explained.

Habash said things have changed a lot in the past 30 years.

"When I started in 1984, the Food Bank was giving out 3-million pounds of food a week. We're almost at 60-million pounds of food annually, giving out. The big shift lately is about 60 percent of that's fresh food now," Habash said.

And Habash said, there is plenty of fresh produce available.

"The estimate is as high as between ten and fourteen billion pounds (with a B) is left in the fields or harvested and not sold in the United States," Habash said.

Habash said the Mid-Ohio Food Bank plans to secure some of those surplus crops to either cook with in the South Side Roots café or sell in the Market.

Habash said he's hoping the facility will serve about 200 people a day using what he calls a 'pay as you can model.' 

"If you can't afford the meal, hopefully you can contribute some other way. You can volunteer, you can help staff the facility that day. You wait on tables. But if at the end of the day, if you can't pay, you can't pay. And so, the idea is that other folks would pay forward. So instead of a tip system that you would typically see at a restaurant, we're going to have a line that says pay forward for somebody else," Habash explained.

Habash and Mid-Ohio Food Bank spokeswoman Marilyn Tomasi agreed that fresh food donated by local grocery stores and farmers help to make the 'pay as you can model possible." And Tomasi said two 5-acre urban gardens operated by the Food Bank also provide fresh produce.

"We are farming about three acres at Clearfield which is in the Marion-Franklin area. And then last week we just launched Wheatland, which again is land that was vacant property that we're able to convert we lease from the city for a hundred dollars a year," Tomasi said.

Matt Habash said The Food Bank's gardens will also sell extra produce to local restaurants, plowing profits back into the gardens to help keep them going.

Habash and Tomasi agree the face of hunger has changed.

"It's who we go to church with. Our co-workers. It's not them. It is us. So when we talk about who's actually going to go the South Side Roots Café and Market, it's probably going to be people who are struggling, but by the grace of God go I. So I don't think we can look into the face and know who is hungry and who is not," Tomasi said.

Matt Habash said The Mid-Ohio Food Bank serves more than 500-thousand people a year in its 20 county area. He says most of those people are the working poor the vast majority of whom use the Food Bank only five times a year.

The South Side Roots Café and Market at 280 Reeb Avenue is scheduled to open September 25th.