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Amid Pandemic, Student-Run Company Serves People Facing Food Insecurity

April 10, 2020

Zack Timmons, a medical student, co-founded Good Apple as an answer to food insecurity — the lack of access to enough nutritious food for an active, healthy life. The service delivers local, organic produce boxes to homes in Travis County. For every box purchased, Good Apple delivers another box of fresh food to a family in need.

Then came a global pandemic and, for Timmons and others on the Good Apple team, an opportunity to meet a new challenge. Now, the service is providing emergency grocery delivery for people at risk of severe complications from COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019). The program, “Stay Home, Stay Healthy,” has served more than 2,000 people and delivered over 62,000 pounds of fresh produce and pantry staples, providing an estimated 42,231 meals. Anyone in need of food assistance who is 55 or older or has an underlying health condition can apply to receive free assistance from Good Apple.

Stay Home, Stay Healthy began March 26 after fourth-year Dell Medical School student Garrett Johnson approached Timmons. Together with third-year students Karen Haney, Michael Measom and Alex Wright, as well as professor Michael Hole, M.D., they realized they could adapt the Good Apple model to serve people experiencing food insecurity as a result of the pandemic.

“We were very fortunate to be in a position where we had infrastructure in place,” says Timmons, 27. “There was a real opportunity to leverage what we had already built to serve an even greater need.” Hope Food Pantry Austin, the Austin Transportation Department and Capital Metro are partners, assisting Good Apple with food sourcing and delivery.

Zack Timmons, Good Apple's co-founder, loads boxes of produce for delivery.

Zack Timmons, Good Apple’s co-founder, loads produce boxes for delivery.

Timmons, who will graduate from Dell Med in 2021, says Good Apple is committed to continuing Stay Home, Stay Healthy for as long as it can.

“It’s a small part of a greater response we can provide for our community in a time of heightened need,” he says.

As demand for the Stay Home, Stay Healthy initiative continues to grow, so does the need for funding to source groceries and pay delivery drivers. The initiative relies on the generosity of our community to continue. In response, Dell Med has launched a campaign to rally support. A gift to the campaign will help more at-risk community members receive the nutritious food they need.

Background

The idea for Good Apple came while Timmons was a student in a course at The University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs on entrepreneurship for civic impact, “Solutions for America’s Children in Poverty.” It was taught by Hole, a serial entrepreneur.

By fall 2019, Timmons was an entrepreneur in residence with Financial Health Studios, a new innovation hub led by Hole. This was part of the Student Entrepreneur in Residence distinction, one of several focus options for students in their third year of study at Dell Med that reflects the school’s commitment to educating future physicians who are able to look beyond direct patient care to enact systematic change that improves community health. There, Good Apple became reality, with Timmons as co-founder and CEO and Hole as founding adviser.

Good Apple works with local farmers such as Johnson’s Backyard Garden, in southeast Travis County, to source its produce and with Hope Food Pantry Austin, located north of the UT Austin campus, to provide additional groceries for families in need. Each week, the Good Apple team receives, inspects and packs its produce boxes, which are then delivered weekly, every two weeks or monthly to the doors of paying customers. The resulting revenue covers costs for weekly, free deliveries to Good Apple’s “impact clients.”

“What gets me most excited is that, no matter the ZIP code, people can have access to fresh, local food delivered directly to their door,” Timmons said. “Increasing food access is a problem we can solve, and we have the resources in our community to do it.”

Says Hole: “In my clinical practice, I see children every week whose families struggle to make ends meet. I’m privileged to train medical students to be not only good physicians, but also savvy entrepreneurs with sustainable businesses helping people in need. It fills my heart to see Good Apple’s impact, especially in these trying times.”

In January, the Good Apple team (which also includes medical student Lee Fuentes, UT Austin public health graduate Chesley Measom and lifelong Austinites Gabe Breternitz and Sal Tijerina) won significant financial help: $75,000 from the City:One Challenge, a crowd-sourcing platform sponsored by Ford Mobility designed to help communities overcome mobility-related challenges.

As of March — before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and before the start of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy program — the service had attracted 50 paying customers and was providing produce boxes to 25 impact clients every Sunday. Now, Good Apple has gained more than 490 active subscribers and served over 2,000 people in need.

Hole, a “street pediatrician,” sees patients one day each week on the Children’s Health Express, a mobile clinic of Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. This is where he identifies families in need of Good Apple’s charitable service. At People’s Community Clinic, a nonprofit providing primary care for Central Texans who are uninsured and medically underserved, community health worker Nancy Sanchez does the same.

She recalls one patient, a middle-aged, married woman suddenly taking care of four small children and further stretching the household budget. “[There’s] no way she can carry those kids around on a bus and go to the grocery store,” Sanchez says.

Timmons, who plans to specialize in pediatric emergency medicine, expects that one day, he too will help identify families for support from Good Apple. By then, it may be run by a full-time successor.

“That would be amazing,” he says. “Talk about coming full circle.”

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