Our mission statement promises that “Menomonie Market Food Co-op will be central to a thriving healthy community.” We meet this goal in a number of ways, including community outreach, support of local farms, and donations to nonprofits. For years, we have donated to food pantries and offered free fruit to children under 12, to be eaten during their visit to our store. However, until our recent expansion we didn’t have the resources to do more to fight hunger in our rural community. According to our local food pantry, Stepping Stones of Dunn County, 1 in 9 people in Western Wisconsin are food insecure – a number which includes 1 in 5 children. In recent years, funding cuts have reduced the number of FoodShare transactions in our store, even as patronage increased at the food pantry. Our community's need is great; we had to act. In 2017 and 2018, Menomonie Market was part of a state of Wisconsin grant application to fund a Double Dollars program. Neither application resulted in an award, so we decided to administer and fund the program ourselves. Double Dollars is a hunger-reducing healthy eating program that incentivizes FoodShare participants to purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables by matching their produce purchase. Any customer using their Wisconsin FoodShare card to buy fresh produce on Tuesdays receives a voucher match up to $10 dollars, to be redeemed for any fruits or vegetables at their next visit.
Despite not winning the federal grants we had helped apply for, Menomonie Market was able to secure a $3,000 award from the Community Foundation of Dunn County to help get our Double Dollars program started. All other funding comes from our customers. At each transaction, cashiers ask shoppers if they would like to round up their purchase to the nearest dollar; those extra cents become a donation to the Double Dollars program. Our customers are generous, and about half of all transactions are rounded up, keeping our program funded. 100% of the grant funds and customer donations received are passed to recipients in the form of Double Dollars vouchers. We cover our administrative, operational, and labor costs to run the program. We consider these costs to be part of our investment in fighting hunger in our community - an investment we are happy to make.
Families experiencing food insecurity often make the difficult choice between getting enough calories and eating a nutrient-rich diet. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, people with a limited food budget focus most on price per calorie - rather than nutritional value - when deciding what to purchase. This means fresh fruits and veggies are often last on a shopper’s list. Menomonie Market knows that eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits has positive effects on health and wellness, including reducing the risk of certain diet-influenced diseases. Our goal with Double Dollars is not just to help people survive, but to help people thrive. We cannot be central to a healthy community without helping to provide nutritious food to those who would not otherwise have access.
In our last fiscal year, FoodShare transactions rose by 12.5%, showing a growing need. Double Dollars is meeting a need for those who qualify; people who received vouchers redeemed them at a rate of 91%. Those who are utilizing the program are spending a higher percentage of their grocery dollars on vegetables and fruits. Before Double Dollars, FoodShare customers spent an average of just above 15% of their purchases on produce; now this number is 22%. The biggest indicator of success is the reactions of the customers who use Double Dollars. During the pandemic, we’ve heard from families who travelled to our store exclusively because they were able to extend their produce purchasing power during an economic downturn. Even before COVID hit, we heard surprise and thanks from customers. We’ve received customer reactions from “it’s so cool that you offer this program!” to “this is really helpful to me.”
It is often true at food co-ops that the high quality, organic, local, and nutritious food available can coincide with higher prices. Our mission is to create a vibrant and healthy community, which goes beyond our current customers. We have the words “Everyone Welcome” in bold letters above our entrance, and this Double Dollars program is a way for us to put our money behind that statement. Once a shopper that suffers food insecurity is in the door, they see that we are here to help, and that we can be a source for learning to eat healthy and whole foods on a tight budget with a little planning and know-how. Crystal Halvorson, General Manager
At Stepping Stones, we know that our food pantry clients appreciate fresh produce. With the COVID-19 crisis it is even more important that fresh, healthy options are available to the many families facing food insecurity. A large percentage of our clients receive FoodShare and we encourage them to get the most value from those benefits by promoting the Menomonie Market’s Double Dollars program. Now that the growing season in Wisconsin has ended, the amount of fresh produce our pantry has access to is limited. As the COVID-19 numbers grow in our region and more community members are facing lay-offs or lost work time, we expect to see an increase in the number of new families accessing our pantry. The opportunity for FoodShare recipients to double their fresh produce purchase at Menomonie Market not only helps families stretch their limited financial resources; it gives them access to healthy food choices. Kris Pawlowski, Food Pantry Manager