Share the Love – An Interview with Forward Market

Share the Love – An Interview with Forward Market

For over 40 years now, Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee has been leading the community in the fight against hunger – but we could not do it alone. Across our 18-county service area, we facilitate multiple feeding programs in schools, senior centers, after-school clubs, and work with 630+ community partners to compassionately feed as many families as possible. With more than 200,000 East Tennessean at-risk of hunger, it takes many hands and many hearts. Today for Valentine’s Day, we would like to highlight one of our newest community partners – Forward Market. Join us for an interview with Jessica Florea. Jessica is the founder of Forward Market and wife to the pastor of Forward Church; her story is one of the many ways we can all work together to feed our neighbors and share the love.

Founder of Forward Market, Jessica Florea

Hi Jessica, first of all – What is Forward Market?

Forward Market is a market who benefits people who are hungry – and it is completely free to whoever needs it. We keep the word “pantry” out of it because people have their minds set already on what a pantry looks like. Maybe that is a box of prepackaged food or a store where they do not get choices. At Forward Market we want to bring dignity back to families and to let them grocery shop just like they would at any other grocery market, but with the benefit of it being free. 

Could you tell me a bit about yourself? How did you get into the role of opening a free food market?

It was never in my plans to do this! It’s funny, because when I was a kid I went to a food pantry and I never really thought back on that until recently. The memory just came to mind here at our church after we gave a bunch of food away over the holidays. We like to give away food baskets to families who might need it over Thanksgiving. This past year, we gave out 100 turkeys plus sides and pumpkin pies. We like to partner with school systems and this year the guidance counselors let us know how many they needed – and there was just a tremendous amount of people who needed Thanksgiving meals this year. It was then that I had a thought that, these people are hungry not just on holidays… so the vision bred out of that. I could see it then in my mind a food market upstairs in our church where we provide food to thousands of people.  

Who do you serve?

Everyone. We have people from our community coming, we had people drive in from Kingston, TN, West Knoxville, Halls. Powell, and various other surrounding counties. We’ve let all of the guidance counselors know at the schools and they have been sending families over here as well.  

You grew up going to and using a food pantry, is opening Forward Market your way of showing reciprocity or sharing the love?

Actually, this is a funny story. When I decided that we were going to start Forward Market, my mom reached out to the food pantry that we went to and said, hey.. your ministry really impacted Jessica when she was a little kid and now she wants to do the same thing for others. They said, “Oh my goodness, you have no idea… my wife is sick and we have to shut our pantry down. We have been very overwhelmed with what to do with all of the pantry stuff – the refrigerators, the freezers, and whatnot. This is really an answer to our prayers. Jessica can have it all, if you can come pick it all up.” So that is how we got that. The pantry was 10 hours away in Vero Beach, Florida. A guy in our church has a trailer, so he drove down, packed it all up and brought it here! 

How do you qualify? What do people need to bring to receive food?

You just show up to Forward Market. We do not require anything, no ID, no social security, no proof of income, no address, you do not need to look a certain way… we all need food.  You don’t need to bring anything to Walmart or Kroger to shop, so why would you need that at Forward Market? Anyone and everyone is welcome.

How do we get involved?

Just show up! Come on by during market hours if you want to serve with us and we will put you to work. You can also drop off food during market hours.

For more information, you can visit us online at

Forward Market is one of our 630+ community partners that we support here at Second Harvest Food Bank. Are you also interested in sharing the love? Here is how you can help support community partners like Forward Market: