People to Watch: LeRoyna Edwards

From the 08/03/2011 edition

When LeRoyna Edwards saw illness instead of wellness, the first thing she changed was on her plate.

With the help of her husband and daughters, she cooked more at home and planted a garden. Others - relatives first and then her neighbors on the Near East Side - began to notice her efforts.

Edwards started inviting people over to share food and facts about health. The vibrant educator and yoga instructor began to envision food as healing power, and scores clamored to plug in.

"We saw that it was a need, especially over here on this side of town," said Edwards, who's known as "Roni" to friends. "We have a lot of junk food stores and liquor stores all up and down Main Street. Then we see the condition of the people, and we wonder why."

In August 2010, she and a handful of neighborhood partners officially started Circle 77 Community Coop, a food-buying club that provides fruits, vegetables, grains and other healthful food to families on the Near East Side. So far, the club has grown to include 50 families, which order together and gather for regular wellness parties.

Edwards led the initial charge, but Circle 77 pulses with a tight-knit community ethos.

That community is about to become bigger.

In June, the Community Health Funders' Collaborative awarded a $150,000 grant to Local Matters to establish a community-owned food co-op on the Near East Side. The nonprofit has partnered with Circle 77 to bring the bricks-and-mortar operation to life.

It's scheduled to open by 2012, and Local Matters hopes that the model can be replicated in other Columbus neighborhoods.

"Every community should have a food hub within walking distance," Edwards said.