Fabiola Garza eyed a succulent, deep purple organic eggplant. Would she have enough room in her bag? Maybe not; she was allowed only two. She decided to tuck the fruit into a sack with fresh kale and a wedge of brie. 

Garza stepped past a table of Italian and French breads and went to choose a meat. The balsamic rosemary beef steak tips seemed like they would go well with the kale.

“The vegetables and everything look good but I have never seen this,” she said pointing to the steak tips she scored at a pop-up market in the 5 Corners District. “This is like what they cook on TV or in the Heights or somewhere.”

Her sentiment holds up. Her Hiram Clarke neighborhood has its share of barbecue stops, and a grocery store is two miles from home. But for the organic and vegan fare in front of her, she would have had to travel more than 10 miles to a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

Now, with monthly pop-up markets like this, Word of Faith Community Church is bringing healthy and epicurean groceries into 5 Corners. Pastor Brandon Washington saw in his Hiram Clarke community a need for more food choices for those who can’t easily travel across town for healthy meals.

“We have a lot of people in this area dealing with health issues from diabetes to high blood pressure,” Washington said. “The restaurants surrounding us and the fast food are not helping. We wanted to do something to help keep everybody healthy.”

His solution is a glorious spread of finer foods. Patrons can fill up two grocery bags from a wide selection of fresh meat, produce, cheese and breads at no cost. At the latest event, the Houston Food Bank also presented a nutrition class to give tips on how to make healthy meals from the food offered.

Garza missed the class, but the exotic-for-the-area selection left her eager to try new recipes. “My husband is the one they’re talking about. He has high blood pressure. I tell him burgers and tacos are not helping. 

“If he can eat this,” she said, holding up a sackful of organic groceries, “we both can be healthier.”

Washington’s plan came together with help from Second Servings Houston. The organization collects surplus food from more than 400 donors across the city and distributes it daily through more than 100 local nonprofits.

Amber Chestnut, Second Servings’ marketing coordinator, said the Word of Faith popup addresses one of its target areas because of food insecurity in Hiram Clarke. 

“Houston has a high abundance of food and high food insecurity in areas with limited access to it,” Chestnut said. “We connect that abundance with the need.”

Because Second Serving provides food free to non-profits and their customers, Chestnut said, some people believe it may be spoiling or compromised. 

On the contrary, as Houston’s only prepared and perishable food rescue, the organization each day takes surplus groceries from donors like Kroger and Whole Foods, and delivers them directly to groups like Word of Faith without ever storing them. So, Garza’s kale and rosemary beef tips are as fresh as in store.

Redirecting fresh food to those who need it now, Chestnut said, also helps reduce waste at landfills, where food can account for as much as 21 percent of their mass.

Having grown to more than 100 customers each pop-up, Washington wants to serve more people in the neighborhood. The Houston Food Bank, he said, will add to the stock available at the church starting in May.

Washington grew up in the area. He attended Dowling Middle School and graduated from Madison High School. He is driven to address economic and health needs in Hiram Clarke. In addition to the nutrition class presented by the food bank, he has worked to bring a personal finance curriculum to Billy Reagan K8 Educational Center starting in the fall.

“We also help with events with (County Commissioner) Rodney Ellis’ office,” Washington said. “My parents came here in the ‘70s and we never left. We care about Hiram Clarke.”

Word of Faith’s food pop-up is open from 12:30 p.m. until the food is gone on fourth Thursdays at the church, 3831 W. Fuqua St.

— By Zanto Peabody