Thanks to your input and our highly successful pilot Double Dollars program in partnership with the City of Madison, Community Action Coalition For South Central Wisconsin, Public Health Madison and Dane County, and Wholesome Wave—we are pleased to announce some exciting changes and opportunities for you to get involved with supporting the Double Dollars program at both the farmers’ markets and the Co-op!
Double Dollars Refresher
For those of you who may be new to the Co-op, or maybe haven’t read the Reader in a while, the City of Madison received a grant through the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program to support the City’s now four-year-old Double Dollars nutrition incentive program for SNAP participants at farmers’ markets. Double Dollars helps those using FoodShare/QUEST purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables. In the summer and early fall, Double Dollars vouchers are available at local farmers’ markets. Thanks to a $40,000 allocation for your Co-op as part of the City’s grant funds, we created a pilot program to offer Double Dollars in the fall and winter on Double Dollars Tuesdays from October 23rd, 2016, through March 31st of this year.
On Double Dollars Tuesdays, any shopper using a FoodShare/QUEST card to purchase groceries was eligible to receive up to $20 worth of Double Dollars coupons to use during future shopping trips for Produce Department purchases. For every $5 a customer spent using their FoodShare/QUEST card, the Co-op gave one $5 Double Dollars Coupon, up to $20. All coupons had an expiration date of March 31st. We had 8,000 coupons to distribute for the pilot. The coupons were so popular, we receivied permission from the USDA to run 2,350 extra coupons to last through March 14th.
Owner Requests to Raise Funds for Shoppers with Low Income to be Fulfilled Starting April 3rd
Since we began discussing opening Willy North with Owners last year, a variety of Owners came forward asking if they could donate money to the Co-op to distribute to customers who might need a hand up to get their groceries. Until now, we did not have a mechanism to accept these types of donations: we didn’t have a criteria for how we would distribute funds fairly or in what amounts. As we are not a nonprofit, we were also uncomfortable with asking you to make cash donations to the Co-op, and your cash donations would not have been tax deductible. Additionally, we knew it was possible at the time that we would receive the grant to pilot Double Dollars and wanted to put our resources towards making sure that this program, which does support shoppers with low income, was a success. Throughout this time, we have listened to your wishes, and heard your generosity. Finally, we are able to announce that we have a plan to fulfill your requests to get involved with supporting your neighbors with additional shopping resources. We will do so by offering the Double Dollars Fund: a simple, year-round opportunity to support the Double Dollars program at both the farmers’ markets and the Co-op.
Accepting Cash Donations to Support Double Dollars
Starting April 3rd, we will offer Double Dollars Fund Cards at all registers at all locations in $1, $5, $10, and $25 increments for those who are able and interested to make cash donations to support the Double Dollars program. Your cash donations will be paid to Community Action Coalition For South Central Wisconsin, who will designate those funds to provide Double Dollars at participating farmers’ markets and at the Co-op. Community Action Coalition For South Central Wisconsin is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and so your cash donations will be tax deductible and you can also be confident that your donations will be used for the purposes described.
Reusable Bag Incentive Program Will Also Now Support Double Dollars, Bag Credits To Be Repurposed
For years we have offered a small credit to customers who brought in reusable bags in recognition of their support for sustainability and saving the Co-op money. Starting April 3rd, we will honor your commitment to reusing bags in a different way. We will tally how many disposable bags you save us from having to buy and contribute those savings to Community Action Coalition For South Central Wisconsin to provide Double Dollars at participating farmers’ markets and at the Co-op.
Why Are We Repurposing the Bag Credits to Support Double Dollars?
Since its inception in 2005, your Co-op has been discussing the reusable bag incentive program and monitoring how it supports our mission to be an economically and environmentally sustainable grocery cooperative. At the beginning, using a bag credit of 10¢ per reusable bag and 5¢ per reused disposable bag at check-out encouraged customers to remember to bring reusable or reused disposable bags to transport groceries. Over time, the program grew stagnant, and showed that the customers taking advantage of the program may likely reuse bags anyway. We spend, on average, $50-$55K annually providing credits for reusable bags, and that number does not change substantially year over year. That means that the current program is not motivating new people to start reusing bags, nor is it motivating people to use more reusable or reused bags than they do already. This also means the amount of waste we are reducing by distributing bag credits is neutral year after year, and not increasing. We decided that we wanted to see if we could revitalize the incentive, which means offering something different than a bag credit. We also heard from a variety of Owners that they did not like the program in the current format: feeling that it favored customers who could afford reusable bags, that it favored customers who could afford to buy enough groceries to need a bag, and that some customers would have rather seen that money donated to a cause. So we listened, we learned, and we are making this change thanks to Owner input!
Moving forward, when you support sustainability of your environment and your Co-op, we will use the money we would save on purchasing new disposable bags to nourish and enrich our community by pooling those savings to give to our shoppers and neighbors through Double Dollars. Your support through bag reuse will ensure that those who need help paying for nutritious fresh foods will have another means to do so while supporting local businesses like the farmers and producers at the markets and your Co-op.
How Will The Reusable Bag Incentive Program Work?
The cashier at your checkout lane will tally the number of reusable and reused disposable bags you used to pack your groceries and you will see on your receipt the number of bags that were counted. The criteria for what counts to make the tally will be the same as it was before. A bag must be reasonably full before you can use a second one (i.e. to be tallied). Purchases under $3 and purchases that do not require a bag for transport are not eligible for tally. The only difference for you is that you will no longer see a credit on your receipt; the tally will instead be used by the Co-op to determine how much money the Co-op will send to Community Action Coalition via the Double Dollars Fund.
Access Discount Program Participants Now Receiving Free Reusable Bags
As part of our changes to the reusable bag incentive program, we wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to contribute to the Double Dollars Fund could do so without needing to spend money on reusable bags. At the beginning of February, we began distributing free reusable bags to those enrolling in the Access Discount Program (one per Individual Owner, two per Household), a benefit available for Owners who demonstrate they have low income through enrollment in programs such as FoodShare/QUEST. Access Discount participants will be able to receive these bags when they initially enroll in the program and when they renew annually, if desired. The same colorful bags we are offering to Owners receiving the Access Discount are also for sale in our stores for anyone who wants one, for $1.99.
The Cost and Future of Double Dollars
Currently, to operate the Double Dollars program at the farmers’ markets and the Co-op the way that the program functions now, it costs about $80,000 for the nutrition incentives (vouchers and coupons) alone. The majority of the funding for the incentives has been supported by grants and some private donations. We are hoping that with your support, we will be able to develop a more stable funding stream for the current Double Dollars programming. Over time, we would like to grow the program, perhaps by adding another day of Double Dollars distribution at the Co-op (currently we can only afford to offer it on Tuesdays), potentially by adding other qualifiers to receive Double Dollars, and maybe even by developing a common currency between the farmers’ markets and the Co-op, so that the incentives could be used at either location. All of these ideas are long-term dreams that will cost more money to support. To start, we are hoping to raise enough funds through your cash donations and your reusable bag usage to maintain current service levels: offering Double Dollars at the farmers’ markets during the summer and offering Double Dollars distribution once a week at the Co-op from October through March.
Matching Contribution Campaigns
We are in the process of seeking a private donor to launch the program with us, a person or organization who would like to fund Double Dollars and would be interested in challenging our customers to match their support by either making cash contributions with Double Dollars Fund cards at the registers or by using reusable or reused bags at check-out. We hope that this is something we can do with community leaders and supporters throughout the duration of this new fundraising program. Stay tuned to social media and the April Reader for more details!
Join Us in Supporting Double Dollars!
We hope you enjoy this new fundraising program and that you will join us to help people in our community get Double Dollars to make food purchases and reduce food insecurity in our community. We look forward to continuing to save money and reducing our carbon footprint thanks to your use of reusable bags; and when you do reuse, we’ll add up all your support and use it to fund this wonderful cause. If you have any questions about the Double Dollars Fund or the changes to the reusable bag incentive program that will support it, or if you wish to be a matching donor to promote this exciting initiative, please visit our website and contact us at www.willystreet.coop/contact-information. We would love to hear from you! Thank you for making DoubleDollars a successful pilot program. We look forward to making it part of our Co-op and the community for the long-term.