Meet Julie: CJ Volunteer

As we approach the end of the year and reflect on all that CJ has accomplished, we want to share stories from our community. Meet Julie, a new Concrete Jungle volunteer. Julie and her children first got involved with CJ at one of our adventure picks, harvesting apples in the mountains of Tiger, Georgia. 

Julie is originally from Tennessee but moved to Atlanta for a fresh start a few years ago. She volunteered with a variety of food justice initiatives around town before finding her way to Concrete Jungle. When she saw the Tiger apple pick opportunity in August, she thought it was the perfect opportunity for the whole family to get their hands dirty for a good cause. 

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Meet Ryan Bigg, CJ Partner

As we approach the end of the year and reflect on all that CJ has accomplished, we want to share stories from our community. We sat down with Ryan Bigg, Food Pantry Coordinator at Intown Collaborative Ministries (ICM) – one of CJ’s partners.  Ryan is an Atlanta native and an Emory grad. He has spent his career in nonprofit work, moving between food insecurity, homelessness services, and youth development. 

Ryan started at ICM in 2020 in the early days of the pandemic as a housing navigator. Now he works on the food programs for ICM. Ryan said the most rewarding part of the job is seeing people’s reactions and appreciations to the food they serve and prepare, “I enjoy talking to people and meeting them where they are in their journey.” We keep hearing from our partner organizations: people come for the food but they stay for the community and sense of connection. 

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Meet Carl DiSalvo: CJ Board Member

As we round out another fruitful year, we need your help. You – our community – are critical to CJ’s success. We rely on you to help us harvest the fruits of local trees. And we rely on you to donate the fruits of your own labor, so that we can get more produce to people who need it. 

Your donation at the end of the year will support CJ as we draw the map to the future. With your help, we will increase our capacity to meet the nutrition needs of communities experiencing food insecurity. 

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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. 

Craig first set up the map to help himself and his friends find free food. 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. 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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