Combating food insecurity is by no means an easy task. But Carl Johnson remains undaunted by the challenge. After arriving in Minnesota, he and his wife Melanie, started a church in St. Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood. Serving as a pastor for Faith City Church, Johnson’s devotion to service led to the creation of Storehouse Grocers, a store that’s committed to combating food insecurity for the surrounding community.
“Our mission at Storehouse Grocers is to change destiny by ending everyday hunger,” said Johnson. “How we arrived at that mission is that one day my wife and I were sitting at our kitchen table in Lima, Ohio, praying over our meal, and praying for those that didn’t have a meal.
“The prayer then morphed into us helping others find food. We knew what food insecurity was, but didn’t know it was going to be a mission for our lives. What’s interesting is that both my wife and I come from families that were underprivileged and underserved, so we know what it means to not have food every night.”
Johnson’s vision and mission were manifested in November 2019 when Storehouse Grocers opened its doors for business. Centered in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul, the shop aims to be a resource for an area that has become a food desert in recent years. Observing these changes, the minister with the support of his congregation, felt compelled to step up by addressing the community’s needs.
“About a year ago, the Cub Foods in the area shut down and when it shut down, it made people have to go a lot further past the two-and-a-half square mile radius to get their groceries,” Johnson explained.
“With transportation, rent, medical bills, and other expenses being a barrier to some, we as a church and we as a people wondered what we could do to have a place where people can have groceries within our neighborhood. My first thought was to create a storage container, but I knew the city was not ready for that type of innovation.
“Then I remember riding through the neighborhood and seeing this place for rent. From there, we moved in, remodeled the place and opened on November 30. Right now, all the shelves are fully stocked, but we’re waiting for more people to find out who we are,” said the grocer.
With a business motto and mission of “affordability meeting accessibility” Storehouse Grocers offers a wide variety of goods that include canned fruits and vegetables, spices, breads, cereal, dairy, and other food staples. They have also partnered with Hy-Vee to sell the company’s That’s Smart brand, which helps to keep prices low.
“We have plenty of products in our store and try to stock things that are quick and easy. So, if you’re baking a cake, you can stop by and get frosting. One thing to keep in mind is that none of our items are above $5.55. Because Hy-Vee’s That’s Smart brand is comparable to Aldi’s brand, we knew we could keep the products at a lower cost, which helps to meet the needs of our customers.”
Meeting the needs of the customers and the surrounding community remains a top priority for Storehouse Grocers, but it is the business’s commitment to accessibility that is helping them to become a pillar in the area.
“ Day-to-day I’ve learned that I have to show up every day and be a good neighbor to somebody in the neighborhood,” Johnson said. “Since we’ve been open, we’ve given away backpacks and toys to the people in the surrounding area. We’ve also learned that even though people are working, they’re still struggling to make ends meet. So, even though we’re trying to raise a profit, we’re also trying to give back as well.”
Storehouse Grocers does not have employees, instead, it relies on volunteers who support Johnson and in a greater sense, the community.
“We get two volunteer requests a week. So, anybody that’s interested in food insecurity and fighting it, come volunteer at our store and you’ll be on the frontline,” said the Good Samaritan, who pointed out that the next phase of Storehouse Grocers could involve meal kits for families and scaling the model to other neighborhoods across the Twin Cities.
Still, he remains drawn to his mission of alleviating food insecurity while supporting the Dayton’s Bluff community.
“It’s important for us to be a resource to the community. We believe we can end food insecurity with our definition of food insecurity meaning that people can have cooked food in their house that’s both affordable and accessible five days a week. We also believe that we have the products to make this happen and will strive to be a resource to all families in the area,” he said.
Storehouse Grocers is located at 851 East 7th Street in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul. They are open 9 am-8 pm Monday- Saturday. Closed Sundays. For more information, contact 651-447-2056 or visit their website www.storehousegrocers.com.