Four alums are helping fight food insecurity for those most at risk.

For many people, especially the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, a simple task like going out to buy groceries now comes with great risk and worry amidst this global pandemic. In response, four Rice alumni and their Austin-based company, Good Apple, started the program Stay Home, Stay Healthy, where at-risk seniors may receive a week’s worth of groceries for free.

Zach Timmons ’15 started Good Apple in 2019 as a third-year medical student at Dell Medical School, alongside Austin natives Gabe Breternitz ’15, co-founder and chief operating officer, and Sal Tijerina ’15, chief technical officer. Karen Haney ’15, Timmons’ wife and fellow third-year Dell Medical School student, is the co-operations manager for the Stay Home, Stay Healthy program, which began this March in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S.

The program is in partnership with the Austin Transportation Department and the Hope Food Pantry. Anyone who is immunocompromised or over the age of 55 is eligible to receive assistance. “Given what we know about who suffers the highest rates of complications from the coronavirus, we decided to focus on those populations,” Timmons said.

People can apply for themselves or refer others to the program through filling out an online form or by calling Good Apple’s COVID-19 hotline number.

“We were really conscious about the fact that not everyone has internet [access],” Timmons said. “We try to keep it very inclusive. We have a lot of referrals from health care providers and social workers as well.”

Good Apple works to sell fresh, local produce that in turn reduces food waste and helps combat food insecurity in Travis County. Whenever someone purchases a box of groceries for themselves, another box is then sent to a family in need.

“One thing we really focus on here at Dell Medical School is the idea that health is a lot more than medical care,” Timmons said. “There are things like education, housing and food that affect health outcomes and living a healthy life.”

Timmons said that they plan to continue the program as long as there is a need in the community, and that the company itself has had to adapt to these times.

“The company has grown in terms of what our ideology is and what our goals are,” said Tijerina. “We’ve learned so much more about how food inequality is a systemic issue.”

Timmons, Haney, Breternitz and Tijerina were in the same undergraduate class together at Lovett College and have remained close since leaving Houston. “It was really cool to form those friendships at Rice, but it’s been even more fun now addressing issues we see in the world together,” said Timmons. Learn more:

“Tiny Acts of Kindness,” a project from Rice’s Office of Public Affairs, features stories about Rice Owls responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in kind, creative and effective ways. Read the Rice Magazine series here.