Before Burnell and Keasha Cotlon launched the Lower 9th Ward Market, residents of the Katrina-ravaged neighborhood faced at a five-mile, three-bus trek just to find a grocery store.
For the Cotlons, something needed to change.
Burnell and Keasha were the first-place winners at Tuesday’s PitchNOLA: Living Well Pitch Competition at the Propeller Incubator. Ten local entrepreneurs offered their solutions to critical issues such as maternal health, food literacy and security, and access to healthcare.
The Lower 9th Ward Market — located at the corner of Caffin Avenue and North Galvez Street — is the first food store to open in the area in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina. The store includes a sweet shop, grocery section and even a barbershop and hair salon.
“Some people come into the store and cry because they don’t have to catch the bus anymore,” Burnell said.
With the $5,000 award from PitchNOLA, Burnell and Keasha plan on buying more inventory as well as a new vehicle to increase home deliveries.
“I’m blown away,” an emotional Burnell said. “This is what you’re supposed to do with your home; you take care of home, and the Lower 9th is our home. We don’t have so many things in our neighborhood but we’re going to fight every day until our community looks like the rest of the city.”
The second-place prize of $3,000 went to Community Plates, a solution to food waste and food insecurity that leverages volunteers through a mobile app. In the last six months, Community Plates has saved 9,500 fresh meals from being thrown away, and helped redirect them to receiving agencies like shelters, food pantries, and soup kitchens.
The third-place prize of $2,000 was awarded to the Urban Farmstead, an educational center dedicated to teaching Permaculture design and homesteading skills like growing fresh produce, composting methods, and integrated water management. The organization also provides vegetables and starter plants through its sister organization, Southbound Gardens.
At the end of the competition, the crowd also decided on an Audience Favorite award through a live text-in vote. Voters decided to give the $1,310.44 audience-funded donation to NOLA Milk Bank, which aspires to be Louisiana’s first accredited service to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies through access to a safe, high-quality supply of donor breast milk.