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CJ Blog

Meet Carl DiSalvo: CJ Board Member

It’s almost #GivingTuesday! And this year we have an extra special request for support: we need your help to update and preserve our fruit tree map. The map is one of our greatest resources – it holds an inventory of 4,200+ trees we’ve mapped in Atlanta and Athens. The map is critical to our ability to source the freshest produce and get it to families in need. And we need your help updating it.

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Meet Shawanda: Athens Hunger Relief Partner

Meet Shawanda Johnson, one of our hunger relief partners at our Athens branch. Shawanda is a Neighborhood Leader in Winterville – a position which allows her to be a resource hub for 25 low-income families in her neighborhood. 

Shawanda does it all! She explains that she “meets people where they are” and asks what they need instead of making assumptions. For her clients, she provides anything from SNAP assistance to mental health services to access to fresh produce. Her office closet is filled with clothes, baby diapers, prom dresses, and many other resources that families raising children may need. Her goal is to help residents become self-sufficient so that they benefit from her assistance but do not depend on it. She also runs her own cooking business, Shawanda’s Kitchen, where she teaches cooking classes and prepares nutritious meals for people.  

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Meet Lauren: Athens Program Manager

Meet Lauren Towe – Program Manager for our Athens branch of Concrete Jungle. With the University at its center, Athens can be a bit of a transitory town. But Lauren is one of those rare lifelong Athens natives, and her roots go deep in this community. 

As Program Manager, Lauren really does it all. She manages volunteers on the ground, scouts local fruit trees, maintains relationships with our partners at UGArden and Campus Kitchen, and coordinates farmers market and grocery collections (amongst a thousand other things). She’s A++ at juggling all the fruity things! 

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Meet Herman: Mercy & CJ Client

We sat down with a current client of Mercy Community Church – Herman. Herman is on a journey of rehab and recovery, and Mercy is there for him through the process. Herman laughed as he told us, “You know, you can’t have recovery your way. You can’t. It’s not going to work. But I’m blessed to be in a community church who loves me. They help me through the process.”

Herman added, “And I’ve got food! I see you guys, and I get veggies and stuff, fruits to take home.” We asked Herman what he liked to take from Concrete Jungle, and he said, “Potatoes, carrots. I’ll go back and make a salad. I’m a fan of salads. See, I worked in a restaurant before this. I learned how to do prep and how to make a meal stretch. Concrete Jungle helps you stretch a meal. Whoever came up with the idea, came up with a pretty good idea. Because it serves the community.” 

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Meet Craig: Concrete Jungle Co-Founder

As we look back at the history of Concrete Jungle’s fruit tree map, who better to talk to than the creator of CJ’s fruit map? Meet Craig Durkin. Craig and his friend Aubrey Daniels started Concrete Jungle back in 2009. But the map existed even before that. 

When Craig first set up the map, it looked a bit different than it does today. It was a simple Google map with markers on it that showed where fruit trees were, but it also had other ways to recover food too – like dumpsters where you could get bags of bagels and donuts. In the beginning, Craig says that it was pretty basic: “There wasn’t a whole lot of community around it. I’m not sure how many people even knew about it.” Today, the map has grown beyond Craig’s initial vision for the project. 

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Meet Pastor Chad: Hunger Relief Partner at Mercy Community Church

Meet Pastor Chad of Mercy Community Church. Pastor Chad started Mercy over 17 years ago, with service as its core mission. Mercy was one of the first sites to receive Concrete Jungle’s produce when we began 12 years ago. 

Pastor Chad explains, “Waking up in the morning, coming in, preparing breakfast, and serving it to people who are hungry seems very direct. And it’s not one group of people doing something for another group of people. It’s us, working together to do something. It’s really about building community. We’re all working together to try to care for one another, respect one another, carve out spaces of justice and dignity and peace and wellbeing.

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Meet Shelley: Atlanta Volunteer

Meet Shelley Rose, a dedicated Concrete Jungle volunteer. Shelley worked extensively with Concrete Jungle on our food delivery programs during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Shelley moved around growing up, but her family eventually came to Atlanta during her senior year of high school. After some time away pursuing her own education, she returned to make Atlanta her home and has never looked back. It was her connection to her synagogue that put her in touch with Concrete Jungle. 

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Meet Scott: Tree Donor

Meet Scott! He lives in a unique neighborhood in Norcross called Adams Vineyard – a neighborhood with an amazing history and TWO HUNDRED muscadine vines.

“I believe there’s about 15 different varieties of muscadines, all originally developed by either UGA or Ison’s, which is a nursery in Brooks, Georgia. They were planted by Colonel John Adams. After serving in three wars, when he came home, his wife had polio. And so he wanted to be close to her. He started putting some shoots in over the years…. it turned into this with 200 vines. Now, there’s about 60 homes that form a loop road around this green space and conservation area, and there’s vines in the neighborhood that have been here over 80 years. It’s quite unique and we’re very fortunate to live with this beautiful space.”

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Meet Tulsi: Athens Volunteer

Meet Tulsi TenEyck, one of Concrete Jungle Athens’ dedicated volunteers. Tulsi is passionate about the Athens community, as this town has been her home for 15 years.  She loves to learn about plants in the area and to create a greater sense of community and connection with her surroundings.  

Tulsi first found Concrete Jungle through CJ’s Edible Landscape Walk in May 2022 that highlighted fruit trees on the University of Georgia campus. As she explains, “We got to meet all kinds of fruit and nut trees. And it just rocked my world. It opened up my eyes to some information that I’ve been really yearning for and looking for – to learn what is growing around us. And I was just like, ‘oh my gosh, these are my people. This is how I’d like to spend my time.’ So it was after that campus walk, I was hooked.”

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Meet Adam Hicks: Field Manager

We managed to snag some time with Concrete Jungle’s Field Manager, Adam Hicks, to chat about all things fruit and community. As Field Manager, Adam leads our weekly in-town fruit picks as well as our monthly adventure picks. 

Adam is also responsible for figuring out where the food we harvest will be donated. He also leads our Produce Education and Enjoyment Loop (PEEL) program. Adam explains, “PEEL is our educational programming so that the people we’re serving have a better understanding of the value of the food, whether it’s nutritional value or how to prepare it. That way, they’re more likely to take it and use it once they receive it.” 

Adam’s role is unique in that he’s truly involved in the whole Concrete Jungle (CJ) process, from tree to table. He organizes volunteers to harvest the produce, figures out where the produce is going to go, and then coordinates or leads cooking demos. 

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Meet Nichole: Director of Programs

Meet Nichole Fields-Kyle, Concrete Jungle’s Director of Program and Operations. Nichole is responsible for supporting our staff on the ground as well as overseeing all the behind-the-scenes operations that provide fresh food for our community.

Like many other CJ staff, Nichole got her start with Concrete Jungle as a volunteer. Nichole is a transplant by way of California and New York. When she arrived in Atlanta, she immediately looked for a way to get her hands dirty. 

As she puts it, “I came that first day to volunteer and was fresh off the plane, maybe 4 days into living in Atlanta. And I actually met one of our other coworkers there, who was also a volunteer at the time. He asked me such great questions about myself. Not like, ‘So, what do you do for fun? ‘or ‘What do you do for work?’, but really wanting to get to know me. After that, I took the MARTA train for an hour to get to the farm every other Saturday during my first year living here. Just because of that sense of community. I didn’t know anyone here, but all of these people were coming together to sweat for two hours, to do this volunteer work, and they really cared whether I showed up or not.

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CJ Partner: Ernesta Ingram with Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center

For over 30 years the Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center, or SWEEAC, has assisted hundreds of families by delivering whole, quality foods to those who need it in the Metro Atlanta area. In total, they have supported 50,000 families and distributed over 1 million lbs of food to families across the state of Georgia. Additionally, SWEEAC encourages families to focus on their spiritual, mental and physical health with the goal to empower clients with the tools to be self-sufficient and productive members of society — which they do well. 

With all the good SWEEAC does for the community, it’s supporters like Ernesta Ingram, an ex-executive who decided to spend her time giving back to Atlanta by providing food assistance to disadvantaged families that make nonprofits specializing in food insecurity thrive. Ernesta was instrumental during the Concrete Jungle Covid Grocery Delivery Program, and she has been an enthusiastic ally in the food insecurity area.

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PEELing Off! And Meet Claire!

My name is Claire Fendrick, and I am the new PEEL Program lead here at Concrete Jungle! I am a second year Masters student at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. During my senior year of college, I developed a deeper interest in the food justice movement, and decided that it was the field in which I hoped to explore when I moved to Atlanta for grad school. This interest led me to Concrete Jungle, where I’ve been working since the fall of 2020. During the 2020-2021 school year, I co-led the COVID-19 Grocery Delivery Program from September to June. Now that we’ve wrapped up GDP, I’m moving on to helping the transition back into PEEL programming for the fall!   

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