BURLINGTON - Burlington's only downtown food market, located on Winooski Avenue, is leading the way to help those who have disabilities and those struggling with poverty. The effort comes through an innovative program, Food for All, that aims to help people economically, while paving the way for families to purchase nutritious food.
Implemented in May, the program offer participants-who must be Onion River Co-Op/City Market members- a 10 percent discount for families that receive WIC, food stamps recipients and people with disabilities.
Onion River Co-Op/City Market General Manager Clem Nilan said customers at the co-op who want to sign onto the plan must also show verification that they are enrolled in the federal programs. Officials with WIC have drafted a letter to show to City Market officials. For those receiving food stamps, a small plastic card that resembles a credit card called an Electronic Benefits Card can be shown, Nilan said.
"As a co-op, we're customer- owned," said Nilan, who noted the store has 3,000 members."We have a board of directors that sets policy."
Nilan noted that one out of every five children in Burlington lives in poverty. Because of that sobering statistic, the co-op, steered by the nine-member board of directors, is concerned about the community's quality of life, while keeping an eye on the financial bottom line.
"We're aware of the economic and social bottom line," said Nilan said."We concentrate on the social piece and food purchases. We can't ignore those who go to bed hungry."
Nilan said co-op officials hammered out a way to help those who are the most impacted by the rising cost of food. Simplicity, Nilan said, is the key to the program's success. Originally, store employees anticipated 150 people would sign up, but according to latest statistics, about 377 are now participating, Nilan said.
"We're not collecting demographics," Nilan said. "We're trying to be sensitive about those who are participating. We don't want to draw attention and we want to make this as anonymous as possible."
On the heels of this program, the co-op offers a popular food cooking program that shows people how to stretch their dollars, while providing nutritious food for their families. "When money becomes an issue and then feeding your family becomes an issue. People today also don't have grandma's cooking skills," Nilan said.
This isn't the first social-service program City Market has either supported or implemented. The store also lends a hand to COTS and the Chittenden Food Shelf. While the mission to help the marginalized form the co-op's backbone, it also has to maintain economic viability so it can continue to help others, Nilan said.
"We need to make sure that we're doing our business stuff well," said Nilan. "We know that costs are going up and it's tough for people to purchase food. But we're paying attention."