The Co-op believes in serving the greater good by serving the greater food. Everyone has the right to access local, fresh, sustainable foods that help with both individual well-being as well as fueling the local economy. It has been just over a month since the 2009 federal increase to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) expired. The cuts impose food security challenges for nearly 47 million Americans, over 860,000 of which are from Wisconsin, and more than 50,000 are in Dane County. That’s one in seven people nationwide who have to worry about putting food on their table. Just before the holiday season, that adds insult to injury. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, these cuts will result in an approximate $11 cut per month for individuals and up to $36 per month for a family of four. This means that at current levels SNAP benefits average less than $1.40 per person, per meal. The Institute of Medicine concluded in a report published this past January that the means to determine SNAP benefits lacked considerations for individual, household, and environmental factors in defining the adequacy of benefits distributed. Given that the individual circumstances of each Co-op Owner vary depending on household health and size, how much time they have to prepare foods, what their means are to get to the grocery store, and how far away the nearest grocery store is, how will our Owners who depend on this benefit weather these significant changes and what can other Owners do to help?
For Owners using SNAP benefits, please note that we accept Electronic Balance Transfer cards (EBT) at the Co-op. Now is also a good time to remind you about your eligibility to participate in our Access Discount Program. The Access Discount Program assists Owners with financial challenges as part of the Co-op’s mission to provide sustainable food access now and for future generations. Owners interested in the Access Discount Program can apply when they sign up for Ownership or whenever they find that they have the need and also have the option to renew annually in March. Applications and renewals require proof of current enrollment in at least one income subsidy program from a select list. Enrollees receive a 10% store discount and qualify to pay Equity in smaller increments while enrolled. Most items are eligible and your discount is applied even when items are on sale. Owners who are already enrolled should expect to see renewal notices this February. We strongly encourage you to take advantage of this program to supplement your food access. Stop by the Customer Service desk at either store to start enrollment. More details can be found at www.willystreet.coop/access-discount-description.
Looking for deals
For Owners who use SNAP and also for other Owners who are looking for deals, it might be good to know about some of our discounted items. At each store, there are areas in the produce aisles dedicated to ripe produce that is discounted to move. Also, the bulk aisle is a great way to find savings. Stop by and pick up a bulk aisle guide and consider one of the “No Secret to Savings” classes that are offered throughout the year (note: classes are currently suspended at East due to the remodel, but the next class offered at West will be January 23rd at 6:00pm). Many staple items are also part of our Everyday Sales Price items—look for the “ESP” signs around the store. We often have coupons available at the Customer Service desk or in the aisles and you may want to check out the Field Day brand, which is a competitively priced brand of staple products only available to Co-ops.
Owners that utilize SNAP, seek a lot of fresh produce, and also have the time to tend to those vegetables weekly or biweekly may be interested in applying for the 2014 Partner Shares program through FairShare CSA Coalition. Partner Shares allows families that are financially challenged to become CSA members and receive weekly or biweekly boxes of farm fresh produce direct from the farm. For households enrolled in Partner Shares, FairShare will contribute up to $300 toward farm shares from FairShare-endorsed CSA farms. That is a huge savings for weekly produce. Many CSAs offer produce for 20-26 weeks of the year and also offer winter storage shares. Participants can elect to be a CSA member of the farm of their choice and work with FairShare to create an affordable payment plan for the remaining cost of their share. The 2014 applications are due in April of 2014, and Partner Shares enrollees can use Quest, SNAP, or EBT benefits to pay for farm membership. Between enrolling in the Partner Shares program via FairShare and utilizing the Access Discount Program at the Co-op, this could be a creative way to increase your access and connection to healthy local foods substantially. Find out more about Partner Shares at www.csacoalition.org/about-csa/partner-shares.
Dane County Farmer’s Market
Another option for purchasing fresh produce year-round with your EBT card is the Dane County Farmer’s Market. At the DCFM information booths (both at the indoor and outdoor markets), users can swipe their EBT card and apply any amount they wish to spend to a unique DCFM scrip that can be exchanged with market vendors for purchases made. Details about DCFM’s program are available at dcfm.org/foodshareebt.
Owners who want to help
If you know an individual or a family with financial struggles, you may also consider purchasing a store gift card for them, which can be used for anything in the store as well as for making equity payments to their Ownership (or starting a new Ownership). You can also help anonymously, each time you shop, if you like. Currently, both stores have donation shelves where you can put non-perishable food items either from home when you come to the store, or after you run through the checkout line. Those who have the means areencouraged to start a great habit of purchasing an extra non-perishable item and adding it to the shelf each time you shop. Food banks consider cereal, pasta, rice, canned fruits and vegetables, canned meals, juice, peanut butter, tomato sauces, macaroni & cheese, canned tuna, and canned or dry beans highly desirable. Food left on the store donation shelves is sent to the Goodman Community Center and the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center from Willy East, and to the Lussier Community Education Center and the Middleton Outreach Ministry Food Pantry from Willy West.
Dane County Food Pantry Network
Lastly: The Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin has put together an excellent online list of approximately 50 food pantries, meal sites, and shelters that participate in the Dane County Food Pantry Network. The site instructs those in need of food assistance to call 2-1-1 to find a pantry that is open nearby. By dialing 2-1-1 you are connected to a local resource and referral service that can answer your questions about where to access resources in your community. The online listing also provides links to all the pantries, meal sites, and shelters that have websites to review. If you are one of our Owners who has the means to donate, you may want to consider contributing to one of those organizations. If you are more of the volunteering type, you may also contact organizations on the list to see how to get involved. Visit the link at www.cacscw.org/food-dcfpn.php.
On behalf of the staff at Willy Street Co-op, we hope that all of you and your friends and family have a safe and hunger-free holiday season and New Year. For those that are interested, keep an eye out for next month’s Reader, where food security will be explored in-depth by Feature Writer and Co-op Services Assistant Dawn Matlak. If you have questions about the Access Discount Program or more ideas about how the Co-op and other Owners can help, please do not hesitate to contact us and share your ideas.