Part & Parcel | 600 Foster Street, Durham 

Long before the pandemic, Jonah Sanville knew what it was like to take off a mask at the end of the workday.

During their first few years in the workforce, Sanville, who has autism, was up front with employers about their neurodivergence. But after realizing that employers were unwilling to accommodate their needs as a disabled person—and that, once made aware of Sanville’s autism, they would often treat them worse than their neurotypical coworkers—Sanville decided to do everything they could to conceal their disability.

“I did my very best to not be autistic,” Sanville says. “It worked and worked until I couldn’t pretend anymore. So then I would come out as autistic, or through my actions I would come out as autistic, and I would get treated poorly again.”

Sanville, 25, says they’ve held somewhere around 12 different jobs since entering the workforce six years ago. But a new chapter is starting: last month, Sanville began work at Part & Parcel, a new bulk dry goods store in downtown Durham committed to hiring employees of all neurotypes.

“I’ve definitely had better integration here than at any other job,” Sanville says. “It’s been very accepting and accommodating of my disabilities.”

In efforts to reduce packaging waste and promote environmental justice, bulk grocery shop Part & Parcel offers a package-free shopping experience, carrying dry goods items, cleaning supplies, and personal care products all in bulk. Customers are asked to bring their own containers—plastic containers, glass jars, tote bags—and fill them with goods, which are then sold by weight.

The store’s interior looks similar to the bulk section at Whole Foods, with large, clear cases holding spices, nuts, beans, and a variety of flours, as well as dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. Part & Parcel affords shoppers an eco-friendly way to stock up on the basics without having to purchase products in mass quantities, as is the usual trade-off with buying in bulk. Because of the store’s proximity to the Durham Farmers’ Market, owner T Land says they foresee Saturday morning shoppers stopping by Part & Parcel to get their dry goods after picking up produce at the Market.

Land, the executive director of Durham’s Autism Support and Advocacy Center, opened Part & Parcel in May as an offshoot of their non-profit. Land says their decision to open the store was rooted in a desire to create employment opportunities for the neurodivergent community.

“I was running programming for high school students who have autism, looking toward what they would be doing post-grad,” Land says. “[Students had] lots of skills and assets that were ready for the workforce, but it was really difficult for employers to be willing to take the change.”

With Part & Parcel, Land aims to create a space where neurodivergent people feel comfortable bringing their full identity to work and advocating for the tools they need to be successful.

“Masking [one’s identity] is exhausting and does not help anyone be their most productive and creative selves,” Land says.

To support their staff, Land allows employees to take breaks as needed, wear comfortable clothing, and help design organizational processes in ways that work for them. In collaboration with employees who are visual learners, for example, Land has developed picture-based guides to illustrate tasks like cleaning and restocking goods.

“This structure is very clear, it’s very direct, it means anyone can jump in and know exactly what the expectation is,” Land says. “Most of the things that you would put in place to support a neurodivergent employee also help your neurotypical employees.”

Beyond providing sustainable employment, the package-free store also strives to promote sustainability in environmental practices. About 30% of municipal solid waste in the U.S. comes from packaging material, according to the EPA, with over 30 million tons of packaging waste ending up in landfills each year.

“Most packaging is excessive to serve the end of convenience,” Land says. “In stores, sometimes you’ll see three bananas on a Styrofoam tray, wrapped in plastic. Bananas have their own natural wrapper!”

North Carolina landfills are “disproportionately located in communities of color and low wealth,” causing long-term negative effects on residents’ health and property value, according to an Environmental Health Perspectives study. Most of Durham’s trash gets sent to a solid waste facility in Sampson County, where nearly a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.

“It’s environmental racism,” Land says. “[The landfill] is there because white communities who have more power and more privilege are making sure it’s not in their community.”

Though the operation is currently small-scale, Land has a number of plans to expand in the coming year, including broadening Part & Parcel product selection and using the space to house a market for neurodiverse vendors. And the store is just the first piece of providing employment under the Autism Support and Advocacy Center, Land says. They intend to acquire the apartment above Part & Parcel and turn it into an Airbnb unit, hiring neurodivergent employees to maintain it.

“Workplaces need to be able to see the strength and the ability in neurodiversity,” Land says. “We want to be the model for that. We want the community to see that it’s replicable.”

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