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Shopping with Dignity at the Value Market

August 23, 2016

Created out of a desire to offer a dignified shopping environment for those with low income, Redwood Empire Food Bank’s Value Market came from humble beginnings. The first step was becoming a WIC authorized vendor, and though the space wasn’t much bigger than a phone booth, it allowed moms to make their purchases quickly and save valuable time. When the Sonoma County food bank moved into its new and bigger location in 2013, the market grew to about 1200 square feet, and the lineup of products expanded. The market is the only one of its kind, selling purchased food to income-qualified individuals. Anyone on WIC, CalFresh, or other food bank programs or those who self-verify income can shop there. 

Upon opening three years ago, the Value Market saw maybe five customers a day. Now, eighty people walk through the doors daily, Monday through Saturday. While the market might not be in a position to boast the lowest prices on every item, shoppers can take advantage of great deals on certain products and usually see overall savings. Everyone who comes to the market also receives fresh produce and a loaf of bread at no charge. One Saturday a month, the food bank offers other free items onsite. 

David Goodman, Redwood Empire Food Bank’s CEO, says that the biggest indicator of success is how many people choose to come to the Value Market. They travel a little further for the superior customer service and lack of judgement from others when using EBT cards to purchase their groceries. Goodman and his staff often hear shoppers confide how “that look you get from people at other stores can be so painful.” Customers also appreciate the selection and quality, as when one person said, “I thought when I fell on hard times that I would be eating worse, but I’m actually eating better now, even organic chicken!” 

The program takes time and effort to operate, but the Value Market allows another outlet for the food bank to “improve the provision of help” for those in need. Clerks ask people who pay with cash or a credit card whether they’ve applied for CalFresh. If not, they are invited to the Food Connections office next door for help applying. Market workers also share information about Summer Lunch and Supper sites to customers with kids in tow. Plans are also in the works as to how to collaborate with the Kitchen Collective chef for creating pre-made salads for the market.  

While other grocery stores are motivated by profits; the goal of the Value Market is to help people eat well and feel good about it. That kind of success is not measured in columns of numbers, but rather in the relaxed smiles of shoppers and in the satisfaction that comes from getting one step closer to ending hunger.

Written by Farley Walker. Farley is an administrative assistant at CAFB, currently working on projects such as the member newsletter, the upcoming member meeting, and next year’s conference.

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