BUFFALO, N.Y. — Alexander Wright doesn't want to give hand outs. He wants people to own and control something sustainable in their community and he says it all begins with food. His goal is to empower people to own a share of their own market and buy healthy affordable food themselves.
"I want folks to not have to have to worry about, 'Do I have to eat today or do I have pay my light bill?,'" he said.
Wright was born and raised on Buffalo's East side and still lives there. He is a graduate of Buffalo Prep and the Nichols School. He went on to earn his law degree from the University at Buffalo. Wright is well aware of problems with poverty, health, and access to good food in his community.
"There's a dearth of good healthy food readily available in the community within walking distance. Couple that with people who have an extreme lack of transportation," said Wright. "So you have poor health. To fix that health you need good food. But you can't get to the good food. And if you can get to the good food you can't afford the good food."
So Wright made it his mission to fix the problem of food deserts, and in 2016 he started the member-owned African Heritage Food Co-Op. It has grown so much, that in 2020 alone, the co-op helped to provide healthy food to 400,000 people.
"I want to create opportunities," he said.
For a one-time membership of $100, payable over 6 months, a member becomes a full owner in the co-op.
The co-op brings healthy foods into the heart of the places that need it most through mobile produce markets.
"I love the communities we're in," said Wright. "There are people there, and wherever there are people, there's value. We are honored to be in these neighborhoods "
Anyone, not just members, can buy produce in the markets or through the online market, where boxes of produce are available for purchase and delivery for $15 to $60.
Many of the fruits and veggies come from either urban gardens and other local growers and distributors.
"The co-op works best when its in the community, hiring the folks in the community, and using the local farms," said Wright.
Wright even bought the co-op its own 22-acre farm in Franklinville called Blegacy Farms, and people can buy their own plot of land on it.
"We wanted to extend an opportunity for anyone who was willing and who likes to farm, to get a plot of land, and we will buy that produce from them," he said.
To learn more about Blegacy Farms click here.
The co-op has a brick-and-mortar grocery store on Highland Avenue in Niagara Falls. It is managed, owned and operated by people who Wright says need a chance.
"We've hired folks who've been recently incarcerated, who have struggled with addiction, who don't have a vast amount of education, who need an opportunity," he said.
A second grocery store is currently under construction on Carlton Street in Buffalo's Fruitbelt neighborhood.
The African Heritage Food Co-Op also has many corporate partnerships including the Independent Health Foundation. It has used the co-op to distribute healthy produce for its community programs for the past 5 years.
"In 2020, in response to the tremendous need in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic, our partnership with Alex allowed us to provide 15,000 families with fresh fruits and vegetables – all purchased from and distributed by the African Heritage Food Co-Op. Through our Good for the Neighborhood drive-through distribution events, he and his team enabled us to respond quickly and directly to our neighbors in need, and we are so grateful," said Carrie Meyer, executive director of the Independent Health Foundation.
"Alex has created a successful business focused on people and the community first. It's so inspiring to see his business grow, particularly in the at-risk areas we serve, where access to healthy, affordable food is often limited," said Meyer.
Wright also invests in other small businesses and offers entrepreneurs a place to sell their goods through the Black Business Bazaar. Wright also launched a children's entrepreneur program called Kiddie Kickstand in which he teaches children how to own and operate their own business.
Still, for Wright, it's not enough.
"Ok, so who are the people we didn't serve? Who are the people who are still hungry?" he says.
Wright is a "Good Neighbor" who is not just feeding mouths, but feeding the needs of our community.