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'Life-changing': School opens free 'grocery store' to help students struggling to get by

"It's like walking into a mini Walmart," the school's principal said.
Gunna and Jasmine Crowe pose outside the grocery store they opened in the rapper's former middle school.
Gunna and Jasmine Crowe pose outside the grocery store they opened in the rapper's former middle school.Maurice Holloway

At a new "grocery store" inside an Atlanta area middle school, there are freezers stocked with fish, burgers and pizzas, refrigerators filled with eggs and produce, shelves of clothing and toiletries and boxes stacked of brand-new Adidas and Nike sneakers.

The best part about this store? Everything is free.

"It's like walking into a mini Walmart," John Madden, principal of Ronald E. McNair Middle School in College Park, Georgia, told TODAY.

Gunna's Grocery Store
The store offers a variety of pantry items, all for free. Courtesy John Madden

And for the families at his school, it's more important than ever.

"Even before the pandemic, we had high poverty, but the pandemic has really impacted a lot of our families," Madden said. "Our students have gone through a lot. Our kids will say, 'I didn't eat last night,' or, 'My lights are cut off,' or, 'I'm living with my cousin or my auntie because I don't have a place right now.' This store is going to provide them some relief."

The store was organized by Jasmine Crowe, founder of Goodr, an organization devoted to stopping food waste and hunger. She teamed up with the rapper Gunna, a former student of the middle school, to help finance the store.

Crowe told TODAY she's been hosting pop-up grocery stores in food deserts for five years, but this is the first one in a school — and the first one that's going to be permanent, thanks to the rapper's donations.

"I learned a lot about the community and how great the need is there," Crowe said. "It was something I just decided I wanted to do, and created it from scratch."

Gunna's Grocery Store
The store also provides clothing and sneakers. That was all Gunna's touch, Crowe said. Courtesy John Madden

Crowe and Madden say the store's association with the rapper — it's called "Gunna's Drip Closet and Goodr Grocery Store" — helps eradicate any shame or stigma that students might associate with taking the free items home. Crowe's organization also provided every single student with a reusable grocery bag to use when shopping at the store.

"Our hope was that now if you see a kid with that bag, you just don't know what's in it, because you got one as well," she said.

Ronald E. McNair Middle School is a Title I school, a government distinction that means it has a high number of students from low-income families.

Gunna's Grocery Store
A selection of frozen food items available at the store. Parents can place orders online and students can pick the groceries up when they're at school.Courtesy John Madden

Parents can place order requests through Goodr's website, and then their children can pick the items up when they're at school and bring them home. If they don't have internet access, parents can register at the school instead. The store has only been open for a few days and Crowe said she's already received several requests — and, to her surprise, they weren't all for the fancy sneakers or new clothes. They were all asking for food.

"To see those first requests, every single one of them asking for food, that was life-changing for me," she said. "Because that's when I knew what we were doing was necessary."

Gunna did not yet respond to TODAY's request for comment, but he shared a video on Instagram of him visiting the school for the store's ribbon-cutting ceremony. He told Crowe he's going to fund the store indefinitely, she said.

Crowe, who lives in Atlanta, has been fighting food insecurity for more than a decade. Before she launched Goodr, she used to cook meals for homeless people every weekend out of her apartment. "Everybody Eats," a children's book about hunger that she wrote, comes out next month; its proceeds will benefit more grocery stores and community programs to feed people.

Free pop-up "stores" have become a way to target people who live in food deserts and economically disadvantaged areas in recent years.

A similar store opened up at a high school in Texas in January. There, students use points (given to each student based on their family size, with extra points allotted for good performance) instead of money to purchase food and toiletries.

Crowe said she'd love to open more stores in schools — and she's already brainstorming how to make it happen.

"I have been reaching out to pretty much every rapper you could think of to say, 'Hey, we could do this in your hometown,'" she said. "Rappers in Memphis and Miami and Houston and New York. I've reached out to about 40 of them."