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Mama-Tee's Effort To Combat Food Insecurity During Pandemic Expands Into Pop-Up Grocery Store

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- An effort to combat food insecurity during the pandemic has really grown. What started with one brightly colored refrigerator in a neighborhood has turned into many across the city and now, even a pop-up grocery store.

When this cheerful, tiny house popped up a few weeks ago, on what was once a vacant lot at 17th and Montrose Streets, it got people talking.

"We have plenty of people just walking by thinking this is simply a tiny home when in fact it's so much more than that," said Mama-Tee Community Refrigerator Project Admin Phil Russo.

Last summer, CBS3 spoke with Dr. Michelle Nelson after she established the Mama-Tee Community Fridge during the height of the pandemic.

"The timing couldn't have been better," she said.

The idea was to take the fresh food you need, leave what you don't. At the time, there were two fridges.

"Now, we are 18 Mama-Tee Community Refrigerators later," Nelson said.

And that brings us to the Mama-Tee pop-up grocery store, which opened up this month.

"The original concept was a shipping container," said architect and co-founder of Mama-Tee Jamal Wells.

The aesthetic of a tiny house though just felt more welcoming.

"The builders, which were the carpenters union, they followed my drawings to a T and they did a great job," Wells said.

The tiny grocery store serves as a hub for gathering and distributing donations, plus the 500 pounds of food provided by Whole Foods each month.

"Every Saturday, Whole Foods and our partners come here and they deliver," Nelson said.

From the pop-up grocery store, volunteers will take bags of food like this and head out to the 18 community refrigerators like this one here to load them up.

Nelson estimates the fridges feed 45 people a day. Times that by 18, and that's over 23,000 a month.

With the grocery store, she says they have the potential to feed 100,000 people.

But here's the kicker.

"This is a mobile construct," Nelson said.

Mama-Tee's pop-up grocery has plans to pop up elsewhere.

"It's completely detachable so we will get a forklift, put this on the back of a flatbed truck and take it to the next neighborhood that needs it," Wells said.

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