reprinted from the Vineyard Gazette: Community Groceries Program Helping Those in Need
Cronig’s Market has launched a new program to provide families in need with fresh produce and other items not commonly available in food pantries. Cronig’s has become the second market in the country to adopt the program, which started in the Berkshires last year.
The Community Groceries Program, originally developed by students at Williams College, is based on the model of “suspended coffees,” where cafe patrons can pick up the tab for future patrons in need. When checking out at either of the two main Cronig’s locations — in Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury — shoppers can ask the cashier to add one of six items to their bill. Once enough items are registered, special coupons are printed and distributed to families through Island food networks.
According to the Vineyard Committee on Hunger, more than 200 Island families require food assistance to get through the winter. Several local initiatives, including Serving Hands, a year-round food distribution service supplied by the Greater Boston Food Bank, and the Island Food Pantry, are working to address the problem.
“What we wanted to do was supplement what’s available already, with our food distribution programs, with items that were harder to come by and healthier,” said Jessica Roddy, a former Slow Food MV member who led the effort to bring community groceries to the Vineyard.
The six items are olive oil, frozen strawberries, spinach, two-percent milk, broccoli and pasta. All but the olive oil are organic. Store owner Steve Bernier said the selection will likely change over time.
Mr. Bernier said the biggest challenge is getting the word out to the community, especially amid the summer rush, when people are eager to do their shopping quickly and avoid the crowds. “Right now it’s too frantic, so we need some help with letting people know what they can do to help others,” he said. The first batch of coupons will likely go out in the fall.
Slow Food MV heard about the program shortly after its debut at Wild Oats Market in Williamstown last spring. Adopting the program for the Vineyard required a good deal of preparation, including staff training, educational materials and store displays. But Cronig’s had been receptive to the idea. “They’ve always been really generous and very much interested in doing this sort of work,” Ms. Roddy said. She hoped the program would eventually expand to other Island markets as well.
Meg Richardson, a member of Kinetic, the Williams College student group that conceived of the idea, said Cronig’s was the first market to manage the program on its own. Originally it was called Suspended Groceries. “We had been kind of pushing it in a lot of different places, but Cronig’s actually reached out to us first,” she said. “So that was really exciting.” Similar programs are now taking root in Anchorage, Alaska, and Great Barrington.
“The dream is that one day everyone will know what community groceries or suspended groceries means and it will be a part of your routine,” Ms. Richardson said. “When you go to the grocery store, you just automatically think of others who might need some groceries. . . . But we’ll keep working to implement it in as many small stores as we can."
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November: reducing food waste tips
September: What's so special about organic food?
August: helping island neighbors in need with Community Groceries