Wild Oats launches 'suspended grocery' system to help hungry

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WILLIAMSTOWN -- Conscientious shoppers at Wild Oats Market have a new way to get good food to those who need it.

The Main Street store is the first in the area to adopt a new "suspended grocery" system, which allows shoppers to purchase nutritious foods for those in need.

Sophomores Jessica Bernheim and Catharine Parker said the idea is a product of student-run think tank Kinetic, part of the Center for Learning in Action at Williams College.

Bernheim and Parker, co-leaders of the Food Insecurity Implementation Team, said this idea was sparked by an online blog post that went viral a year ago.

"We came upon a post on Tumblr about a suspended coffee system in Italy," Parker said. "We thought, ‘What if we could put this to a grocery store setting?' "

The system currently includes six food items to choose from: a carton of eggs, a container of yogurt, a bunch of broccoli, a package of frozen berries, a pound of bulk rolled oats, and one cup of house-made soup.

"We wanted to include healthy, perishable items that were less available in food pantries," Bernheim said.

Shoppers can opt to suspend an item as they check out their own order. The item is recorded in the point of sale system, and once a week coupons are generated and sent to the Berkshire Food Project in North Adams.

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Executive Director Valerie Schwartz said her organization within the First Congregational Church then distributes the coupons. Schwartz said she and others are teaching participants how they can use the items in recipes.

"So far, everyone seems to think it's a great idea," General Manager David Durfee said. "We've been doing it for about two weeks now. We've had about 40 or 50 items suspended."

Durfee said the students' proposal aligns with the market's mission. The food cooperative on Main Street carries a variety of organic, fair trade and natural food.

The management will monitor how successful the selection is and consider rotating or adding additional items, he said.

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Bernheim said students' immediate goals are increasing awareness of the system, and thus the number of coupons generated for distribution. Students are in the process of developing a survey for those who take advantage of the program and are creating a way to measure its success.

Other grocery stores have already approached them and expressed interest in signing on, she said.

To reach Edward Damon:
or (413) 663-3741 ext 224.
On Twitter: @BE_EDamon

At a glance ...

What: "Suspended grocery system,' which allows shoppers to purchase the following nutritious food to be received by those in need:

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n A carton of Feather Ridge Farm eggs

n A 32-ounce container of Stonyfield organic yogurt

n A bunch of fresh broccoli

n A 10-ounce package of Cascadian Farm organic frozen berries

n A pound of bulk organic rolled oats

n A cup of house-made soup

Where: Wild Oats Market, a food cooperative, 320 Main St., Williamstown

Store information: 413-458-8060 or http://bit.ly/1kGDGSI

To participate: Contact Berkshire Food Project, 134 Main St., North Adams, (413) 664-7378. Learn more at facebook.com/SuspendedGroceries.


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