LYNN — Johnny Figueroa, owner of Ernie’s Harvest Time, is ready to hand-deliver groceries to elderly residents affected by the closing of Shaw’s Supermarket.
The local produce store, located at 597 Essex St. in Lynn, could be the small patch that fills the grocery gap in downtown, according to Figueroa. The family-owned business partnered with John Wang, regional director for the North Shore Food Project, in efforts to provide fresh, locally-sourced food to Lynn residents.
“I heard some people saying there are a lot of elderly residents that go to Shaw’s and they can’t walk far because of disabilities,” Figueroa said. “If they can call us with an order, why can’t I deliver to them? They don’t have to leave their house. I have my own car and also have a truck I can deliver with.”
Figueroa said whatever people ask for, as long as the store has it, he will bring to them. He also asks people to be patient with the new delivery service for older residents, as it is just getting started.
Aside from personal deliveries, Figueroa and Wang have partnered up to make fresh produce more accessible for low-income residents. The Lynn Grows initiative — a partnership between several stakeholders, including the Food Project, the Lynn Food and Fitness Alliance, and Lynn residents — has a goal of building a food system that works for everyone.
For months, those involved with the initiative got feedback from more than 500 people on ways to build a better food system in Lynn, said Wang. One of the biggest points made by residents was the desire for more access to food grown locally.
“With the closing of Shaw’s, the sense of urgency has really increased,” Wang said.
The Food Project has a program where members can sign up to receive a weekly box of fresh produce with a one-time, upfront cost of $500. Averaging 5 to 20 pounds each, the boxes are dispersed for 20 consecutive weeks, beginning in mid-June and ending in mid-October.
The former pickup location was at the Food Project headquarters on Munroe Street, but since the Wang-Figueroa partnership began, they changed the pickup spot to Ernie’s, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays.
“We feel like the community should help out the community,” Figueroa said. “We aren’t in it for making a lot of money, we just want to offer it to the neighborhood. It’s a win-win situation.”
The fresh produce duo is also working on applying for grants and obtaining a website to expand their efforts.
While Ernie’s has been a running establishment since 1945, with the former location on Boston Street as the inaugural store, Figueroa bought it out from the original owners three years ago, one year after the Essex Street spot opened up, he said. He runs the business with his wife and in-laws, with a second location in Everett.
The original owner’s daughter still works there, along with employees who have been around for more than two decades, Figueroa said. They get their fresh produce themselves almost every morning at 5 a.m. at the market in Chelsea.
“We have a lot of longtime customers and they say they all come here because the prices are competitive, even to big markets,” Figueroa said. “We are just a single family-run business. We get the produce ourselves because we don’t want it to be too expensive for people.”