Christian Thomas and the Cougar Market

Selling Food for the Price of “Smiles and Happiness”

Christian is the kind of person that has a natural magnetism. His bright smile and cheerful demeanor make it easy to see why his work at the Asheville High School Cougar Market is so successful. The Cougar Market is a student-led school food pantry that is open to anyone at Asheville High, and Christian, in fact, is the manager.

“Everyone who comes [to the market] is surprised,” says Christian. “They aren’t expecting it to have so much.” They’re also surprised that it’s free, he notes. “We don’t take money; we accept smiles and happiness.”

The market is open daily, in the morning before classes and in the afternoon, immediately after classes end. And thanks to Christian’s efforts, more people have been coming to the market this year than ever.

“People spread the word,” he says, “because they come here and have a good experience.”

His Cougar Pride emanates from him as he talks about the market, and it’s clear that he has a passion for helping people out. “The snack boxes are really popular,” Christian says with a smile about his most recent initiative. “I put those together myself. They’re called Snack Packs.”

Cougar Market isn’t Christian’s first experience in food access. He has been volunteering at MANNA since 2009, when he first came with his church, and continues to volunteer when his busy schedule allows. He is a senior, and was getting ready for prom when we spoke.

His work with the market also looks different right now. After remodeling the pantry this year, Christian is ready to pass the torch and is recruiting for the next manager, so that the market can continue its important work after he graduates.

“I recruit people who are trustworthy,” he says, noting how important it is that people feel comfortable when they come to Cougar Market.

Even as the school year winds down, he’s busy strategizing. Christian has plans to continue his food outreach work, even after graduation, and keep volunteering when he can. He’s going to AB Tech in the fall, and ultimately wants to open a food truck.

Join us in thanking Christian for being a shining light and helping hand in your community – we look forward to hearing about your future endeavors!