Two years after the Community Food Box project started to temporarily relieve the residents of the Indianapolis food deserts, 23 year old Sierra Nuckols is celebrating the installation of the 50th free food box.
And it’s no coincidence that the boxThe gentrification news and artwork hotel is near a bus stop on 10th Street, right outside one of the hippest new restaurants in town.
Beholder, the highly anticipated sequel to Jonathan Brooks’ Milktooth, opened in mid-June at E. 10th St. 1844 with great success. At the time of the debut, the menu featured “refined food,” ranging from a $ 100 Wagyu steak to small plates priced as low as $ 6.
Nuckols said the box’s placement outside of Beholder was in part because a high-end restaurant made a testimony in a neighborhood where so many of its neighbors have trouble putting food on the table. And in response, in part to Brooks’ comments on social media, some felt insensitive to those in the neighborhood.
Brooks’ comments were in response to the avalanche of negative comments on social media about a mural of two rabbits having sex that was painted on his restaurant.
“Anyone can hold and suck. ‘It’s not my favorite mural’ WHO (expletive) ASKED,” he wrote on Facebook. “Do your own thing … and you’re welcome to soaring property values. Bye.”
Brooks later apologized on Instagram, saying he should have realized that “drunken comments on my personal FB page would be taken for more than they should be”.
“It was not my intention to make anyone in our neighborhood feel disrespected or disrespectful,” he wrote. The mural was painted over after less than two days of painting.
Even so, the comment on property values didn’t go well with Elysia Smith, owner of Irvington Vinyl & Books – and sponsor of the new grocery box.
“That made me really angry,” she said.
How does Brooks feel about the food box – and the mood behind its placement there? It is unclear. IndyStar has sent several messages to Brooks’ business partner Joshua Mazanowski for comment on this story. He did not answer.IndyStar also left a message for the couple at the restaurant and reached out to Brooks on social media.
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Beholder isn’t the only new addition to the neighborhood that has seen both residential and commercial growth in recent years. However, there was no shortage of fighting around the restaurant.
Westminster Neighborhood Services, which uses East 10th Street as the northernmost limit of its service area, serves an area where 8 percent of residents live below the poverty line despite regular employment, the nonprofit director recently told IndyStar. Last fall, the Department of Justice awarded nearly $ 1 million in grants to fight crime and revitalize the east side of the city.
It’s important for new business owners to be aware of their privilege when moving to a new neighborhood, Smith said, and to make sure they create a space where neighbors can feel welcome and not out of place.
“I teach a lot and work in the community around asset building, which leaves the tools and resources in the hands of the community instead of other people stepping in from quote to quote as flavor makers or table makers,” she said. “Places have already been created; it is our job to raise and maintain them.”
So she teamed up with Nuckols to create two boxes: one that will stay in her Irvington store and the other that will serve as both a mini pantry and a statement outside of Beholder.
To keep the 10th Street Box in stock, Smith is offering a 10 percent discount on any purchase at Irvington Vinyl & Books to anyone who brings a non-perishable item to donate.
Smith said she hopes Brooks will take an active role in community service, whether through cooking demonstrations, gardening classes, donating leftover food to community gardens to grow back, or sponsoring their own free grocery box.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” she said. “It’s not to shame him and hope he’ll fail.”
The food box also includes work by local artist Michelle Johnson, as well as quotes from a June article on food and gentrification that appeared in online magazine The Root.
“Most of us do not view our culinary experiences – especially the delicious ones – as cultural attacks,” wrote reporter Terrell Jermaine Starr. “But when we think about who controls the food narration, it’s mostly whites. Where we eat and where those facilities are, to some extent, means a position of power.”
Nuckols said she hopes people pause to think about that power and their own privilege when they see the box, whether they’re dining at the restaurant or just dropping by.
“When they go to the restaurant to eat, we just think that it’s sad that we as middle-class people have the opportunity to eat in places that cost so much, and then we sit here and we have to donate food to people who have nothing at all, “she said. “… I’m just thinking about how we can keep fighting to change that.”
IndyStar reporters Amy Bartner and Domenica Bongiovanni contributed to this.
Call IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at 317-444-6156. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.