The Fare & Square (F&S) grocery store on 9th and Trainer sts. in Chester has been providing “Good Food. Right Around the Corner” since September 2013 and last Friday, Kevin W. Concannon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Customer Service came to the nation’s only non-profit grocery store to witness for himself what he believes has become a shining example of innovative ways to create healthy food access in low-income communities.
“Stores like this are very attractive to us,” said Concannon, “the Food and Nutrition service (is) deeply committed to ending hunger in this country but we want people, in the process of ending hunger, to eat healthy.”
Chester was once designated “a food desert” by the USDA because it had been without a supermarket for 12 years, despite the location of several supermarkets in neighboring municipalities. But all that changed since the lime green, 16,000 square foot grocery store, owned and operated by Philabundance, set up shop. Philabundance is the largest non-profit food bank serving the Greater Philadelphia region.
Before creating the grocery store, Philabundance provided donated food to as many as 12 local faith-based food pantries throughout the city. The store also boasts of having created 69 new jobs; 82 percent of which are held by Chester residents.
William J. Clark, Philabundance’s president and executive director, said, “Providing affordable access to nutritious food is a public policy challenge across the country.”
Chester is home to about 34,000 residents; more than half earn less than 200 percent of the poverty line. The hope is that F&S will serve as an unconventional pilot to improving food access. The store offers cost-cutting programs for shoppers who meet income requirements through its Carrot Club customer rewards program that offers store credit through in-store promotions. F&S also accepts SNAP benefits but the store is open to all, regardless of income.
“The SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp) program is the largest public nutrition program in the United States and this store serves about twice the average percentage of SNAP households as the typical supermarket, for example, so you know it’s responding to the community,” praised Concannon.
Providing nutritional food access is not the only thing some visionaries for the store see. Jacqueline Brady, a Philabundance board member, said she dreams of more to come.
“The board very much wanted to see this (store) open and it is my dream that this will become more of a community center that happens to also have food in it,” said Brady. “I’d love to see local community members who cook well doing some demos here and I’d like to see kids’ groups here. I’d just really like to see this become more of a community center.”