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Food Security Initiatives and Reusable Bag Incentive Program Update

Eight years ago, we launched the Access Discount Program, an Owner benefit that offers Owners with low-incomes 10% off of Co-op purchases. Within the last three years, we’ve begun to consider further means to address food insecurity. We now offer in-store FoodShare/QUEST education and registration. We opened Willy North in an underserved part of Madison and began accepting WIC there (in addition to FoodShare/QUEST at all locations). We piloted the City’s Double Dollars program in the retail setting and are piloting a Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program. This month, we will begin offering a means for our Owners to support Double Dollars at the registers through cash donation or reusing bags. Your support has allowed your Co-op to make a great commitment to reducing food insecurity in Dane County and to remind people of all incomes that they are welcome here. Here are some reminders of your impact, and the great work we are able to do because of you and our public and private partners. 

Reusable Bag Incentive Revamp and Double Dollars Fund Starts April 3rd

We reported in last month’s Reader, on signage in stores, and in email to all Owners who have received the reusable bag incentive within the last year that starting April 3rd, the Co-op’s bag credits will be invested in our Double Dollars Fund rather than given to our customers. This means that for each reusable cloth or fabric bag you use, the Co-op will contribute 10¢ to the Double Dollars Fund and for each paper or plastic bag or box you reuse, the Co-op will contribute 5¢ to the Double Dollars Fund. Double Dollars supports shoppers using FoodShare/QUEST. The Double Dollars Fund will help keep Double Dollars distributed at participating farmers’ markets and the Co-op.

In addition, thanks to your input, we have also developed a way for you to make cash donations to the Double Dollars Fund. If you are interested, simply select a $1, $5, $10, or $25 Double Dollars Fund scan card at the checkout lane, and we’ll add your donation to your receipt. Cash donations are tax-deductible!

All Co-op savings from reusing bags and customer donations to the Double Dollars Fund will be sent to Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin for administering Double Dollars at participating farmers’ markets and the Co-op. We are compiling a list of participating farmers’ markets and will offer this resource as soon as we are able. Thank you for asking us to create a program to support shoppers with low income, for reusing bags, and for writing us in support of the Double Dollars pilot program we have offered. You have made a tremendous difference!

Double Dollars Pilot Program Success, Looking to the Future

The Double Dollars Pilot Program at the Co-op ended on March 31st and, at the time of writing, preliminary review of the program demonstrates it was a resounding success, and that there is a tremendous need in this community to help stretch our neighbors; food budgets further. 

In early February, we noted that the original 8,000 coupons we had been allocated for distribution to customers were about to run out early. We worked with the City of Madison, Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, and Public Health Madison & Dane County to redistribute some of the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant so that we could print 2,350 more coupons, enough to last through our advertised distribution dates of October 25th-March 14th. As of the week ending Sunday, March 12th, we had distributed 9,489 coupons (a value of $47,455) and redeemed 7,394 coupons (a value of $36,970). 7,394 coupons are 92% of the original 8,000 coupons allocated and 78% of the total number of coupons available for distribution. These coupon redemption rates are considered very high compared to other types of coupons available in the grocery industry, and demonstrate that they are a serious value for our consumers using FoodShare/QUEST. We are excited to see that the community has welcomed this program. Your support provides an opportunity to bring the program back next fall and set our sights on possible expansion of this program at both your Co-op and local farmers markets. Thank you to the City of Madison, Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, and Public Health Madison & Dane County for inviting us to participate in this program, to Wholesome Wave and the USDA for providing financial support, and to the public for helping support local and federal food security programs and initiatives. 

FVRx Pilot Update

In February, we announced the launch of a Fruit and Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) Program pilot in partnership with UW Health Northeast Family Medical Center, Second Harvest of Southern Wisconsin Food Bank’s HungerCare Coalition, and Public Health Madison & Dane County. With funding from Wholesome Wave’s Nutrition Incentive Program Support and Innovations Grant, we created a program designed to help patients at UW Health Northeast Family Medical Center become Owners and also purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables if health care providers determine (using a screening tool developed by the HungerCare Coalition) that food security is a concern for the patient. When patients screen positive for food insecurity, physicians provide those patients with a packet of six months’ worth of FVRx vouchers to redeem at the Co-op in addition to providing information about other food resources available. The packet includes one $4 voucher to apply to Ownership at the Co-op (and enroll in the Access Discount Program), and 60 $2 vouchers for our Produce Department (10 for each of six months). 

The $23,120 in grant funds were initially allocated to provide support for approximately 150 patients at UW Health Northeast Family Medical Center. Within the first few weeks of running food security screenings, UW Health had already prescribed almost all 150 FVRx packets, and so the City worked with Public Health Madison and Dane County and Wholesome Wave to make adjustments to the grant allocation so that we could offer FVRx to 185 patients. By the end of February, 167 FVRx prescriptions had been distributed, and at the time of writing, 45 patients had already used their Co-op Owner vouchers to either become Owners or make an equity investment and enroll in the Access Discount Program, and 979 FVRx vouchers had been redeemed. The pilot partners are now monitoring redemption and planning for future funding. We are grateful for this partnership and the words of encouragement we have heard from our customers about this new initiative. 

In-Store FoodShare Education and Registration

For the past 18 months we have had the pleasure of hosting Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin every month at each of our locations. When Second Harvest is at the store, customers are welcome to schedule appointments or drop-in to learn more about FoodShare/QUEST, perhaps to find out if they are eligible to receive FoodShare/QUEST, to find out what the benefits are, or to learn more about the impact FoodShare/QUEST has on our community. Customers may also enroll in the FoodShare/QUEST program at the store during their appointment or drop-in. We are thrilled that this program has lasted a year and a half, and the program has also offered us an opportunityto tell more people about the Access Discount Program, Double Dollars, and accepting WIC at Willy North. In 2016, Second Harvest completed 35 FoodShare applications at the Co-op and received 10 referrals connecting clients to Second Harvest’s services. The USDA calculates that every $5 spent in FoodShare benefits generates up to $9 in local economic activity. According to Second Harvest, the 35 applications completed at the Co-op will translate “to more than 20,246 meals to help feed hungry people in our own backyard.” Many thanks to the staff at Second Harvest who have contributed their time to helping our customers learn what programs are available in the community to address food security. 

Willy North Update

Willy North opened only about eight months ago, and our newest Co-op location is already showing signs of success. We planned to open the store with 500 new Owners signing up at North in Fiscal Year 2017, and 1298 have signed up there to-date (the fiscal year ends July 2nd). For the Fiscal Year, sales are currently within 6% of North’s projected sales budget, even having opened the store two weeks later than planned. Upon opening, we made a commitment to our Owners and the community that we would stock the store based on sales trends and customer requests, and to date we have brought in over 2,000 products based on your input and purchases (some of these products have also been brought in at East and West). In order to keep growing North’s ability to serve our Owners and neighbors, we are currently working with community partners to develop means to get even more feedback about what we can do to continue to grow our ability to meet community needs. Thank you for shopping North and providing your input! 

Much Work to Do!

According to Feeding America, 11.6% of residents in Dane County are food insecure, meaning that they do not always have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Sixty-two percent of people in Dane County have income that is lower than the thresholds for eligibility for public nutrition programs such as FoodShare/QUEST. Co-op Principle #1 is that we are open to everyone, a principle that all cooperatives share. It’s our job to ensure that anyone can shop and anyone participate in our cooperative. Thanks to you and the growing community conversation regarding bothfood security and justice, your Co-op continues to adapt so that we can meet the many nutritional, financial, personal and cultural needs and values you share. As our community’s needs and desires will continue to change over time, just as they have changed over the course of our 40+ years of business, we look forward to continuing to change and develop initiatives to address your needs alongside you. 


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