Center for Transformative Action

Nourishing community at Cornell University

Anabel’s Grocery stands as a testament to grassroots activism and student-driven solutions at Cornell University. Formally founded in 2017, it emerged from years of dedication by two Cornell University students, Matthew Stefanko and Emma Johnson. They recognized a pressing issue among their peers—many students weren’t able to afford three meals a day and were compromising on nutrition to save money. Observing students skipping meals due to financial constraints, they approached university administrators, only to find limited recourse as the need-blind admission process was designed to provide enough financial aid, including dining passes. Undeterred, and with the support of faculty and staff allies, they pushed for awareness of food insecurity.

This advocacy led the university to incorporate questions about food insecurity in an annual survey, revealing that 22% of students admitted to often skipping meals to save money. Matthew and Emma were determined to create a solution that wouldn’t perpetuate the stigma associated with food pantries but would instead provide a dignified way for students to access affordable food.

Their efforts evolved into what is now Anabel’s Grocery, whose mission is to provide fresh, nutritious, and affordable food for all Cornell students. Run entirely by students, the on-campus retail location provides affordable food, and the organization offers workshops and seminars about healthy eating habits and food preparation. The store offers discounted prices for fresh produce and staple items, making healthy food more accessible. Cooking workshops and nutrition seminars aim to empower individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed dietary choices on a budget.

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The organization has been a project of the Center for Transformative Action since its inception. CTA handles all the legal and fiduciary tasks such as holding the grocery store license, bookkeeping, insurance, and payroll, so the students can focus on operations.

In 2019, the store found itself running into organizational issues and challenges with purchasing products at high costs due to its limited purchasing power. Anke Wessels, Executive Director of the Center for Transformative Action, launched an undergraduate course to reenvision the business model. The students ran comprehensive surveys, focus groups, and researched other non-profit grocery stores, leading to a more sustainable business plan. Bulk purchasing allowed for cost-saving, enabling discounts to be passed on to shoppers. A subsidy fund ensured locally grown produce was sold below cost, balancing profits from other items.

Anabel’s engages around 45 student employees and volunteers every semester, including several that are employed through federal work study programs. About 30 students take the practicum-based social entrepreneurship course every semester, earning credit while focusing on creating a socially just and ecologically sound food system.

“I really think Anabel’s is the gold standard of community engaged learning,” says Cornell junior Noa Dijstelbloem. She has been one of the collaboration and education coordinators for Anabel’s for over a year, managing partnerships with Cornell and community organizations to promote Anabel’s mission of food justice.

“We’re all really proud of the relationships we’ve built on campus with other organizations, which means that more people know about the store and have access to affordable food.”

In addition to on-campus collaborations, Anabel’s partners with local producers like Stick and Stone Farm, Fort Baptist Farm, Remembrance Farm, and Wide Awake Bakery as part of their commitment to support the local economy and provide fresh, healthy, and locally-produced food. 95% of the grocery’s purchasing dollars went to local vendors and farms in the fall semester in 2023.

The implementation of curbside pickup in spring 2021 and subsequent reopening in fall 2021 showcased their resilience and adaptability, and the store has increased sales by 22% from 2022 to 2023. In the 2023 fall semester, the store averaged around 600 shoppers per week.

Anabel’s Grocery’s innovative approach and community-driven initiatives have not only addressed immediate food insecurity issues on Cornell’s campus but also fostered an environment of learning and empowerment. Learn more at

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