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Inspiration

Richmond, VA Native Liz Dukette Uses Her Mobile Pantry To Deliver Free Produce Across the City

Proof that it only takes one person to make a difference.

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Liz Dukette poured herself another cup of coffee as her friends headed home. The conversation had turned serious that November afternoon in 2016. A recent newspaper article had described food deserts in their hometown, neighborhoods where people didn’t have access to grocery stores or healthy foods, and the Richmond, Virginia, attorney turned-college professor felt compelled to do something.

In the next few days, an idea to create a nonprofit to give people access to life-improving resources took shape in Liz’s heart. She would call it “World U.P.” — the U.P. signifying her ultimate goal to foster an understanding and peaceful global community. And where better to start making the world a better place than in my own backyard? she thought.

How Liz Dukette Kickstarted This Initiative

Liz bought $50 worth of fruit, set up a table in a part of town where need was great and gave it away. As people thanked her, they shared their stories. A mom told her that she’d had to choose between paying a utility bill or buying food that month. One young child said she had never seen an orange before.

Liz understood that often, food pantries can’t afford to rent space with a commercial refrigerator, so they have no way to store or provide fresh food. But this isn’t right. There has to be a way to get people nutritious food, she thought.

And as she looked around her, Liz noticed food trucks popping up, selling food and drinks from vehicles with refrigeration without the overhead costs of brick-and-mortar restaurants.

“Could we do something similar?” she asked her carpenter father and her former husband, who did insulation work.

“Absolutely,” they said, agreeing to help.

By watching YouTube videos, they built a custom refrigerator-trailer to store produce that Liz could haul behind her Jeep. She then arranged to receive fresh food from Feed More, a Central Virginia food bank, and in 2019, The Rolling Pantry launched.

Six times a month, Liz began driving her mobile food pantry to a different part of the city. In the first four months, she and her volunteers gave away 75,000 pounds of fruit and veggies.

“I can’t believe it!” Liz grinned, the success fueling her desire to reach even more people and make World U.P. (WorldUPFoundation.org) a reality.

What’s Next for World U.P.

Thanks to generous donations, Liz now plans to build a resource center where people can access information for things like transportation to get to a job interview or commute to work, find affordable housing, healthcare, or childcare. Where people from various cultures can learn from each other and lend support.

Liz even hopes to provide cooking classes and recipes for people who receive food from pantries but don’t know how to make the most of it.

“I never intended to get into the food insecurity business,” Liz says. “For me, it’s not the food, it’s the people. It is their gratitude and knowing that you did something that makes a difference that means the most.”

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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