Connected by cooking: Goodness Cooks creates in Blue Dogwood 

By Meredith Radford

Every Monday and Tuesday, two best friends cook together in a rented-out kitchen, in an otherwise empty building, preparing fresh and locally sourced meals for their Chapel Hill customers.

Cordon McGee and Lizzie Jacobs started Goodness Cooks at the end of 2019, making healthy, feel-good food for customers to pick up and enjoy at home. They’ve known each other since 2014 and were nutritionists and holistic chefs for many years prior. A love for food, health and cooking brought them together.

“It’s quite a journey to go on as friends to create a business together, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it,” Jacobs said.

They are both self-taught, learning first from cooking for their families and helping heal their own health issues, like food allergies. After years of cooking separately, they decided to come together and start a business to spread their love of food to their customers. 

“We’re passionate and driven in that way too because we know that the foods you eat affects everything – mental, physical, emotional health,” Jacobs said.

After starting in December 2019, their business was built during the pandemic. But they were perfect for it. They created their business around the idea of customers taking their food home and enjoying it on their own time, not in a traditional restaurant.

They started at Midway Community Kitchen, but after it closed they had to find a new, more permanent home. That brought them to Blue Dogwood Public Market in June.

A community of cooks

Blue Dogwood is a public market, meaning it rents out vendor and kitchen space to businesses. Prior to COVID-19 shutdowns, it was an indoor community space. After the pandemic began, it transitioned to takeout and outdoor dining only. 

Doug Bright, a Blue Dogwood project manager, began working with the market in April. He said Blue Dogwood’s thoughtful pandemic plan made him feel confident working there, despite the general uncertainty as to how restaurants would operate safely at that time.

“The people that I live with are really kind of COVID conscious, so I wanted to make sure that I didn’t have to be in a place that was acting irresponsibly,” Bright said.

Although Blue Dogwood is historically an in-person marketplace, Bright said, COVID-19 caused it to shift to more of a commissary kitchen model, where it brings in businesses that are focused on takeout. 

The three permanent vendors, Big Belly Que, Rumi Persian Cafe and Vegan Flava Cafe, have also been able to stay at the market during the pandemic. 

Piedmont Pennies is a new addition. Founded by Kenan-Flagler Business School MBA candidate Becca Jordan Wright, Piedmont Pennies launched in August and has been at Blue Dogwood since September, using their kitchen to bake the cheesy, straw-like snacks.

“I came across Blue Dogwood because it’s a convenient location and also I like the idea of being with other food vendors and food stalls and just learning from them and kind of having a community within the space,” Wright said. 

Wright works in the kitchen at nights a couple of days a week, adding to the multifaceted nature of Blue Dogwood’s space. She said that although starting a business during the pandemic made her nervous, she knew that her Pennies could bring smiles to people during this uncertainty.

Similarly, Goodness Cooks doesn’t have a restaurant space – they only need the kitchen. This has helped them avoid the hardship of dealing with closings and capacity limitations due to the pandemic.

“We’re almost sort of like tunneling under all of that fluctuation,” McGee said. “In a way, we’re not as affected by it.” 

The only change the business had to make was temporarily ending its Eco Program, which involves packaging customers’ food in reusable glass jars. 

The health department has since let them bring the program back. 

They also don’t have to worry much about food waste, like a normal restaurant might, because they only buy ingredients for the orders they have each week.

Their promise of gluten- and dairy-free meals and locally sourced, organic ingredients has attracted a loyal base of customers who rely on them for meals.

“And that’s what we want,” Jacobs said. “To see people resting back a little bit in the week knowing that, OK, I’ve got a really busy week ahead, but Goodness Cooks is going to come and nourish me for these three days, so I’ve got that covered.”

Intentional culinary creations

Every week, McGee and Jacobs think carefully about the menu items they put together for their customers. During the week of the election, they put extra thought toward comfort and familiarity. 

“We’re starting with roasted potatoes and rosemary, just something like, so kind of comforting and grounding and homey,” Jacobs said. “Everyone loves roasted potatoes.”

They included the customer favorite oven-baked thyme, lemon and garlic chicken dish, easily-digestible soups and pumpkin bread. They always include one soup dish on their menu, but they added another after McGee got a text from her mom asking them to include something extra comforting for customers to reach for during a stressful time. 

As another comfort, they added a chai latte to the menu, “spiked” with reishi mushroom, which Jacobs said helps with sleep. 

For McGee and Jacobs, the act of cooking is a special part of the process. Hovering over each product as if it’s their child, the pair work carefully to make sure every dish they create is perfect.

“Every time that I cook or handle a vegetable, I am absolutely blown away by the power of taste and the variety of taste and how nourishment feels,” Jacobs said. “And that brings me a lot of joy, creating and knowing that the food is going to be reached to a wide variety of people, and they’re going to be nourished by these ingredients that comes from, a lot of it coming from North Carolina soil, and farmers that we know.”

Because Blue Dogwood is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays, Goodness Cooks are the only ones there, leaving plenty of socially distanced space for them to prepare meals.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, one employee helps McGee and Jacobs cook while McGee’s mom helps package the meals. Then on Tuesday evenings, customers arrive in the parking lot for the best friend chefs to carefully place the meals in their trunks. Later, another employee helps clean up. 

When McGee and Jacobs finish cooking, they compost their food scraps and take it to their friend, who has a large garden, every week.

“Knowing that all that waste, all that food waste, is going to be turned into a rich compost to then create more vegetables is such a wonderful feeling,” Jacobs said.

Edited by Anne Tate

D.C. locals feed children around city, persevere through COVID-19

By Anna Mudd

Fridays are delivery days for the To Be Well Fed team. Co-founder Dave Kiyvyra mans the wheel of his family’s white SUV, the back jostling with cups of oatmeal, fruit, soup and other groceries.

On Thursdays, his whole family shops. Dave, his wife Alicia, and their sons Luther, Abdisa and Memphis struggle to keep their full carts from tumbling over, like a huge game of grocery Jenga. Later, they spread the food across their floor and organize it into bright green bags. 

On Friday around 8 a.m., the team leaves their home in Ward 3 in northwest Washington, D.C. and crosses the Anacostia River, heading southeast to Ward 8. From their car window, they see the clean-cut brick row houses give way to rundown apartments and chain-link fences. 

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Dave would drive to Wheeler Road, walk into Eagle Academy Public Charter School and hand bags of food to a social worker. 

When the Kiyvyras first started To Be Well Fed, they served five kids at Eagle Academy, but quickly expanded to Friendship Southeast Academy and Center City Public Charter School.

A few months later, they connected with Melissa Gomes, a Student Support Coordinator at Friendship Academy, who works with Dave and Alicia to identify the neediest children. 

Inspiring action

In 2017, Alicia and Dave found clarity. Disheartened by Hillary Clinton’s loss to President Donald Trump, they sought comfort in community, starting with their neighborhood Unitarian church. 

They aren’t religious, “never have been,” Dave said. But, they wanted reassurance of good in the world. 

In her sermon, the Rev. Kären Rasmussen spoke about her nonprofit, No Child Goes Hungry. Her message that anyone can help hungry kids resonated with Dave and Alicia. They formed an idea and a sense of purpose. It doesn’t take much to help; just buy some extra groceries. 

“I feel like everything in my life has led me to where I am now with To Be Well Fed,” Alicia said. 

She remembers a similar program, called “In His Name,” that her grandfather ran when she was a little girl. She remembers his old red truck and the bed full of groceries taken from his greenhouse-turned-food-storage-space. The two drove through the streets of Fort Smith, Arkansas, picking up food donations and delivering them to hungry families. 

She was young, naive and didn’t understand that most people don’t bring food to needy families. The farther she traveled from Arkansas, the more she realized this was rare. It’s stuck with her. 

On the other hand, Dave is a D.C. local. 

“I’m a native of a very privileged part of D.C.,” he said. “There’s no connection between these areas so trying to figure out how I can bridge that gap and play a meaningful role in my community is important.” 

The Kiyvyras have always known that there was a hunger problem in Ward 8. As the Director of Development for Lindamood-Bell for Schools, Dave often works in these neighborhoods. He’s seen kids fall asleep in class or eat school meals so quickly they threw up. In Ward 8 alone, 14% of kids are homeless and 47% are below the poverty line. One school they deliver to has a “detox room” for kids high from secondhand smoke or drugs they encounter at home.

“We’re struggling to help these kids read and write, but they can’t because they’re hungry,” Dave said. 

The final push came just a few weeks after the sermon. 

Dave sat at his office desk reading The Washington Post. He came across an article headlined “Did your father die?” It was about Tyshaun McPhatter, a then 7-year-old at Eagle Academy who lived in the nearby Congress Heights neighborhood. He was in school when his father was shot. Tyshaun heard the sirens and thought, “I hope my daddy is okay,” the article said.

Dave and Alicia were devastated thinking about what life was like for Tyshaun and others in the area.

Within days, they set up a GoFundMe page and used the donations to buy groceries. They wanted the food to be simple — no cooking, no prep – because many of these kids have no kitchen access. 

Donors encouraged them to create a 501(c)(3) organization, which they named To Be Well Fed. 

The bridge

The Kiyvyras  needed someone in the schools to get the food to the kids. Enter Melissa. 

She initially chose kids to receive packs of food based on the schools’ homeless list. Now, the list has grown to families who reach out to her, many living in areas deemed “food deserts.” These families often can’t drive or walk to a local grocery store.

When Melissa shows up at their homes, kids spill out of the doors, excited to see her. The parents’ relief is unmistakable. 

“You can just tell it’s this thing over their heads they’ve been worried about,” she said. 

She and the Kiyvyras have seen the impact of these donations firsthand. Pre-pandemic, Melissa would hand the bags to the kids at school. Some of them ate everything before school let out. One child opened the bag of food, grabbing the instant oatmeal cup. He was so hungry, he ate the dry flakes from the plastic container, no milk, no microwave.

Growth during a pandemic

As To Be Well Fed grew, Costco deliveries replaced the Thursday grocery trips. 

“Just when you think they’re doing everything, they step it up another level,” Melissa said. 

When the pandemic hit, she wasn’t sure Dave and Alicia would continue. But when schools closed, the Kiyvyras dropped food off at Melissa’s house so she could deliver bags directly to children’s homes. 

“You had it looking like Aldi’s in my kitchen,” she told Dave.

Following the green bags

Two siblings stand out to Melissa. A girl and boy living with their grandmother in the Woodland Terrace apartment complex in Anacostia. When Melissa shows up, the little girl runs out to help her. 

Homebound, their grandmother battles the pandemic and her own declining health. A lot of days, it’s tough to get food on the table, and the arrival of her daughter’s newborn this summer added pressure. 

The grandmother said she isn’t one to accept charity. But when the pandemic hit, “I needed to start accepting things, because it got tight,” she said.  

She’s come across a sea of people, she said, who say they care or want to help her. But, “at the end of the day they couldn’t care less.”  

She thinks the Kiyvyras and Melissa are different. 

“Everything is short and sweet. That’s about all you can say, you grateful,” she said, adding “they always say God put a special blessing and angel in everyone’s life, and he did that by putting the people that donate into my life.” 

Moving forward

Dave and Alicia don’t consider themselves angels. “There are massive amounts of inequities in this city and we know food won’t resolve those,” Alicia said. 

They said it’s important to take direct action in bridging this divide others often ignore. They hope to soon expand to four schools. 

“There’s something more tangible and meaningful from doing that action yourself. It’s easy for people to think that there’s some organization who takes care of things. In reality, this isn’t always true,” Dave said. 

Deliveries bring them a sense of hope; it’s a step toward bringing the wards together.

Every Friday in their loaded-down SUV, the family is a rolling pantry. They drive down Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, passing the Washington Monument and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. They cross the 11th Street Bridge and turn up Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, passing liquor stores, fast food restaurants and drug treatment centers neighboring the schools.

Children in Ward 8 await their deliveries, because for many of them, these food bags bring them the chance to be well fed.

Edited by Anne Tate

Charlotte activists support released inmates, push for bigger changes

By Venetia Busby

Large blue and gray tents housing tubs of clothes, underwear, snacks, water, Gatorade, masks, gloves, medical supplies and hand sanitizer, sit outside of the Mecklenburg County Detention Center. Every day, dozens of volunteers wait for the magistrate’s office doors to open across the street. 

The moment someone walks out of the double doors, volunteers turn their heads and shout, “Did you just get out of jail?” Loud clapping and shouts of excitement quickly fill the area as volunteers greet the recently released inmates with essential supplies and support.

Steam from hot food, provided by community chefs and bakers from Feed The Movement CLT, fills the area as people line up to nourish their bodies. Smiling and laughing volunteers circle around the tent playing games, passing out supplies and offering support.  

Charlotte Uprising, an activist group that formed after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in 2016, formed Jail Support, the supply hub and resource center that sits in front of the Mecklenburg County Detention Center.

Jail Support helps transition people from jail to life in society.

“We created Jail Support because there was a need in the community to support people who were released from jail,” Charlotte Uprising organizer Ash Williams said. “There are volunteers who greet and assist people who are released with a ride home, temporary housing, cash and anything that they need.” 

Jail Support started as a care center hub for protesters during the George Floyd protests in Charlotte. Protesters could stop by anytime for first aid care, snacks, water, rides home and emotional support. Jail Support is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because the arrested protesters can be released from jail at any given time. Jail Support volunteers cheer on the recently released protesters and make sure they are taken care of upon release. 

Additionally, Jail Support runs a hotline that protesters can call if they are arrested, and a bail fund to help them be released from jail. 

Since its beginning, Jail Support has evolved in many ways and now serves more than just protesters. It provides services to the disabled, the homeless, inmates in jail, recently released prisoners, and anyone that walks up to ask for help.

Jail Support is fully funded and supported by the community, with no grants or donations from government entities. It receives all of its supplies and funding through crowdsourcing donations. It also hosts various supply drops throughout Charlotte, where people can donate supplies. 

Beyond the prison gates

Another goal of the Jail Support community is to defund and eventually eradicate the police system. 

“The direct response for the police locking people up and throwing them in cages is Jail Support,” volunteer Ke-TayJah Morris said. “Jail Support could not exist without jails. The only way we’re ever going to stop providing these services is when the prison system is abolished. Until then, our people need us.”

As police officers walk by the tents, volunteers scream the Migos song “F*ck 12” at the top of their lungs to express their disdain and distrust with police. Sometimes, the radical words of N.W.A’s “F— Tha Police”  blare through the loudspeakers as volunteers sing along. 

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden has adamantly worked toward the removal of Jail Support’s tents and services. On June 18, McFadden gave the Jail Support crew four hours of notice to remove its tents and relocate by 2 p.m. 

The volunteers refused to leave and held a sit-in instead. They posted on social media sites and asked for as many bodies as possible to come to the Jail Support site.

Hundreds of people gathered to protest the removal of Jail Support. Squad cars and paddy wagons multiplied, filling every space on the one-lane street. At around 2 p.m., it seemed like the entire Sheriff’s department was at Jail Support – there were about two officers for every protester. 

Then, blue and red lights flashed and a loudspeaker turned on. 

“We have requested for you all to move,” a police officer said. “We are giving you all a few minutes to disperse before we take action.”

The words echoed for minutes. 

Still, the protesters remained, prepared for whatever came next.

“Our work is essential, just like you think yours is,” Charlotte Uprising leader Glo Merriweather said. “You requested us to move and we denied your request.”  

Immediately, the officers swarmed in like a pack of wolves. Armed with zip ties and handcuffs, they circled around the protesters.

In the blink of an eye, the officers started grabbing protesters, pinned them to the ground and arrested them.

That day, 43 protesters were arrested for trespassing, but with the help of Jail Support’s hotline, all of them were bailed out of jail.

Advocating for more

The arrests were only a minor setback for the Jail Support group – they didn’t let this interfere with their work.

After the mass arrest of volunteers, Williams called for the crew to move their tents and supplies from in front of the jail to across the street. 

“We need Jail Support,” Williams said. “Jail Support is essential because no one else is doing it.”

McFadden claimed that he holds his own jail support through a re-entry program for recently released inmates. He said that it provides housing, clothes and job resources. 

The Jail Support team does not think his program is enough. 

“I’m not sure what McFadden means by his re-entry program because literally, inmates who have been released always come to Jail Support asking for help,” volunteer Mariah Davis said. “And there are so many times that I’ve seen people walk out of that jail without shoes on their feet. You know how dangerous it is to walk outside without shoes? People are released in blue paper shirts or sometimes no shirt at all. Their basic necessities are being stripped away from them inside that jail and they don’t get the proper support after serving their time.” 

Since opening, Jail Support has helped thousands of released inmates and has bailed out over 200 people in the Charlotte area. 

The Jail Support team does not plan to move their tents or supply bins anytime soon. 

 Edited by Anne Tate