Every morning at 4, Jamal Gooding and his team of volunteers drive from Brockton to the Chelsea Produce Market in Everett to buy enough fruit and vegetables to fill 10-pound bags that will be sold for $2 each later that day at various low-income housing sites in Brockton and Quincy.
Gooding, the head of People Affecting Community Change, started what he calls the “Champion Bags” program about three months ago as a way to bring healthy and inexpensive food to people in need — and to put into action the job skills he was promoting for young people, the homeless, and the dispossessed.
“It’s absolutely working,” he said. “Everyone is embracing it.”
PACC is a nonprofit organization that initially sought to teach life skills such as effective communication, financial literacy, and work etiquette to unemployed people in the Brockton area. Gooding, who was helped by a similar program when he got out of prison more than 10 years ago, said PACC works with local businesses and community groups to provide the training and find jobs.
He added the fruit and vegetable service as another way to help the community, he said, out of concern that poor diets were contributing to high rates of hypertension and diabetes.
In addition, participants working with him would get valuable experience. There’s the physical labor loading pallets and the economic insight into what products cost and what customers want — as well as the expectation to arrive on time.
And then there is “the opportunity to show young men how to be men — to help carry bags, for example,” Gooding said. “And if someone is paying in coins [instead of dollar bills], you should give the bag to them for free, because they probably don’t have much money.”
Gooding said a typical bag contains half a dozen potatoes, five onions, and then anything from peaches to tomatoes, zucchini and yellow squash to broccoli.
He’s found that there are many Asians at the Quincy sites, who ask for things like bok choy, and that the Haitian community in Brockton craves plantains.
Customers can buy an unlimited number of bags until the supply runs out. The operation runs seven days a week, with evening and morning hours alternating among more than a dozen public housing sites in Brockton and Quincy.
The program operates out of a warehouse on White Avenue in Brockton and uses the parking lot of Gooding’s church, the New Life Temple of Holiness, where the pastor supports the effort, Gooding said.
Each site provides volunteers, he said, and more than 200 people have gotten involved.
“Anyone can put a tomato in a bag, and the satisfaction you receive when you see the looks on people’s faces when they open the bags is [priceless],” he said.
The daily schedule for the sites is posted on PACC’s Facebook page.