HOTEL INC is a community development center located in the Delafield neighborhood of the West End of Bowling Green, KY. We work with neighbors who experience chronic material poverty and with people across our county experiencing homelessness. Our area’s poverty rate can be as high as 44%. In March 2022, we opened the Delafield Co-Op Market to alleviate a food desert and build a sustainable, equitable food system.
HOTEL INC formed in 1981 with the Manna Mart food pantry a core part of its outreach. In 2016, we began inquiring about the pantry’s impact. We had learned that food pantries can be an important response to food crises, and like many traditional charities, we treated everything as a crisis (even when it wasn’t). We found that the food pantry did not help us cultivate healthy relationships with or alleviate food insecurity for our neighbors. We continued to listen. In 2020, our Flourishing Neighborhood Assessment showed our neighbors’ most pressing concern was their lack of access to fresh food. They made clear that they preferred a store to a pantry so they could spend their own money or food benefits.
We tried several experiments to discern what would work best in our area. In 2019 we did a mixed income Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with a local farmer. This ignited the spark for what we have today. During the COVID crisis of 2020-2021, we continued researching other models, and our neighbors reaffirmed that their greatest desire was for a place to buy food whenever they wanted.
How It Works
The Market has three price points. West End residents do not pay a membership fee, and they receive a 30 percent discount on their purchases. Residents living outside the West End are invited to join the Co-Op with a one-time membership fee and pay retail price. Occasional shoppers pay retail and a ten percent tip. Our Market Associates either live in the neighborhood or are past program partners, and we are pleased to hire bilingual staff.
A year in, we have more than 300 members, about 66 percent of whom live in the West End; 65 percent of them come from within a mile radius. In the first ten months, the Market had more than $35,000 in sales and provided nearly $10,000 in discounts to our neighbors. SNAP sales made up 10% of the margin.
- We will continue building and highlighting our relationships with local farmers and Kentucky Proud (which earns us a Kentucky Department of Agriculture cash benefit).
- A Co-op Member Council will be formed to bolster members’ connection and wellness.
- We will add online ordering and delivery through a partnership with the American Red Cross that has provided us a van to deliver to people whose transportation needs or disabilities keep them from coming to the market.
- We will hire our fourth market employee.
God at Work
Our neighbors have previously shared their experiences of isolation and exclusion, and so we see God at work in the pride on their faces when they see the Market is named for Delafield. We see God’s goodness in their ability to shop for culturally appropriate fresh foods that meet their dietary needs. We have seen God transform the Market into sacred space as everyone has joined together in prayer for concerns shared while shopping.
As Christians working in community development, we are called to move beyond traditional charity to invest in our neighborhoods based on what they want and need. We may be at different stages in this journey, but we can still inspire one another to boldness in loving our neighbor in the healthiest of ways.
Lord, lead us to love our neighbors and to share in your work so that we may all have access to the healthiest foods our bodies need to sustain us. Sometimes that work is hard, and sometimes there are adversities and challenges, but it is so beautiful to see all of your children sitting at the table getting the daily bread that you supply. Amen
About Rhondell Miller
Rhondell Miller, Executive Director of HOTEL INC, Bowling Green, KY, is an experienced nonprofit leader who has guided the development of HOTEL INC over the last 11 years. Her leadership with the Board, staff, and community has resulted in a new vision of holistic care and development that addresses root causes of homelessness and economic poverty.