Philadelphia Presbyterian Church Hosts Weekly Bulb Market

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MINT HILL, NC – Founded in 2016 by social worker Alisha Street, The Bulb has a simple mission: to provide (mostly) local produce – as well as education on health and wellness – to food insecure communities.  After witnessing firsthand the effects of inequality and injustice on individual health, Street started collecting unsold produce from farmers markets and giving it away off the back of her truck in food insecure areas.

The Bulb provides mostly local produce to food insecure neighborhoods
The Bulb provides mostly local produce to food insecure neighborhoods

From those humble roots, The Bulb grew.  Six years later, the small, nonprofit, donation-based farmer’s market hosts 12 weekly neighborhood markets and two home delivery routes serving Charlotte and Pineville.  Their “take what you need, give what you can” motto creates a barrier-free environment that promotes accessibility for all people.

“Food insecurity” is defined by the USDA as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”  Insufficient income to purchase food is certainly an important factor, but the reasons food insecurity exists are complex and varied. 

According to The Bulb’s website, 185k Mecklenburg County residents live in a “food dessert,” meaning an area where people have limited access to a variety of healthful foods.  That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no food available; it may indicate an area with several fast food restaurants and liquor stores but little access to fresh produce.  Another important factor is access to transportation: more than 50% of Mecklenburg County residents lack reliable access to transportation, which affects their ability to get to stores that offer healthier options.  

The problem, in other words, is not exactly a lack of food or even a lack of fresh food.  Instead, it’s the numerous barriers that keep people from accessing those healthy options.  “There’s no shortage of fresh produce,” says The Bulb’s Executive Director Ebonee Bailey.  “There is enough food being grown for everyone to have meals, but it’s not being distributed correctly.  A lot of it is being wasted.”  

The Bulb focuses on providing access to fresh produce
The Bulb focuses on providing access to fresh produce

14.9% of households in Mecklenburg County experience food insecurity.  Of course, there are numerous organizations that distribute food to families in need, but few of them focus on fresh, local produce or produce at all.  That’s where The Bulb comes in.  “A lot of food distribution organizations in Charlotte and Cabarrus County focus on shelf-space food,” says Bailey.  “We want to complement that.  If you are receiving resources from other organizations, this can be – literally – something else on the plate.”

Lack of access to healthy options is exactly what was weighing on Philadelphia Presbyterian Church Pastor Katie Sloan’s mind last fall.  For some time, Philadelphia Presybterian has assisted families in need in our area by filling backpacks for Clear Creek Elementary.  Recently, they also started helping at Bain and Lebanon Road.  The backpacks are sent home on the weekends filled with convenient, easy to use pantry items.

Philadelphia Presybterian currently feeds over 100 students with Backpacks of Love
Philadelphia Presybterian currently feeds over 100 students with Backpacks of Love

“One of the things that had always pressed on my heart is that while what we provide in those backpacks is helpful, it’s not always healthy,” said Pastor Katie.  A resident of West Charlotte, Pastor Katie had seen the Bulb’s pop up markets and noticed that some of Philadelphia Presybterians’ sister churches even hosted them.

After praying on the topic at length, Philadelphia Presbyterian was blessed to be able to begin a pilot program with The Bulb last year, offering a monthly market and increasing it to twice monthly at the end of the year.  “At a Christmas program that we have giving away Christmas trees, a woman said, ‘I’m so grateful for The Bulb,’ and someone said, ‘What is The Bulb?” recalls Pastor Katie.  “That night we got a generous donation that has allowed us to do it every Thursday, and it’s just been this amazing, Godly blessing.”

Now, every Thursday at 3:30, Philadelphia Presybterian hosts a mobile, pop up produce market through The Bulb.  Like all Bulb markets, Philadelphia Presbyterian’s market offers fresh, seasonal produce from local farms as well as food “rescued” from Trader Joe’s.  The way it works is simple: “Come to the market; get fresh produce,” explains Bailey.  “That’s our no-barrier approach.  Take what you need, and pay what you can.”

On February 15, Philadelphia Presbyterian had 27 individuals shop at the market, providing 62 people with food.  “We were out of food at 4:00!” said Pastor Katie.  “What we’re finding is that because groceries are getting so much more expensive, we’re having families who are just barely getting by.  The common thread that we’re seeing is that because produce is so expensive, this is a way for them to supplement what they can no longer afford at the grocery store.”

"Rescued" produce from Trader Joes rounds out the market
“Rescued” produce from Trader Joes rounds out the market

“We offer it to the whole community,” continued Pastor Katie.  “We really want to see folks who are struggling.  We want to be able to feed people who can’t afford it, but as a church, we also want to be a blessing to the community.  No one is turned away; there is no requirement.  If you’re a healthcare worker who’s been working all week and hasn’t had time to shop, we want you to come and be blessed because this is what we’re here for.”

If you would like to help create a world where access to fresh and nutritious food is a right, not a privilege, there are numerous opportunities to get involved.  If you’d like to help fund The Bulb at Philadelphia Presbyterian, you can make a donation at or simply send a check to the church with a note for “The Bulb.”  They are also always accepting cash or food donations for their backpack program.  You can follow Philadelphia Presbyterian on social media to keep up on what is most needed for backpacks.  If you’re interested in volunteering at the market, contact Pastor Katie at Philadelphia Presbyterian.

There are also numerous ways to work with The Bulb.  “Volunteer!” encourages Bailey.  “Every single aspect of our operation is volunteer-based: sorting food, picking up ‘rescues’ from Trader Joe’s, helping at markets, delivery routes.”  The Bulb is also currently accepting applications for their board; they’re specifically looking for someone with experience in finance and accounting.  Of course, as a donation-based organization, they’re always accepting funds to help them feed more people.  Visit The Bulb’s website at and follow them on social media to stay up to date on all the good work they are doing!

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: