There won't be any snooty shoppers in this checkout line, rolling their eyes whenever a mother pulls out a government WIC voucher to buy flour, baby food or low-fat milk.
That's because this grocery store is operated by the nonprofit Redwood Empire Food Bank — the first of its kind in the country — and everyone who shops here is in the same boat.
The recently launched Value Market hopes to give low-income customers a more "dignified" shopping experience at prices that beat major grocery stores, though maybe not Wal-Mart, said David Goodman, executive director of the local food bank.
"We're not claiming to be the low-price leader," Goodman said. "We're claiming to have great quality, good selection and excellent customer service. We think we can make it on that."
The market is located at 3990 Brickway Blvd., off Airport Boulevard and in the same brand new structure that houses the food bank. It's about the size of a New York City bodega without all the clutter and grime.
The store is getting some generous help from some pretty big players in the area. Whole Foods Market pitched in to decorate the shop, while G&G and Oliver's markets are using their purchasing power and letting the food bank piggyback on their orders to help the small store get better deals on product.
"We can't buy a truckload of product, so we just take advantage of their volume," said Goodman.
Goodman described the store as a boutique market for low-income residents, stocked with many brand names and well as the competing private label Western Family. You'll find everything you would in a mom-and-pop store, including dairy products, canned foods, cereal, sugar, flour, baby food, vegetables, fruit, tortillas, juices and more.
Mike Runyan, a local grocery store consultant who is assisting the food bank with the project, said the store also carries cash-purchase items that can't be purchased with WIC vouchers or food stamps, such as toilet paper, laundry soap and pet food.
"We carry a lot of items that aren't WIC-able to round out the shopping experience," said Runyan, who used to own the former Food 4 Less on Stony Point Road.
All the products sold in the market are purchased from food distributors, Runyan said, adding that the food bank's donated items are kept separate.
Runyan said that the use of WIC vouchers, which are item-specific, often take a longer time for the cashier to redeem. That sometimes leads to awkward scenes in the checkout line at a place like Safeway.
At Value Market, shoppers are all treated with "dignity," he said.
Goodman said the store is open to residents who make under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $31,020 a year for a couple. Customers automatically qualify if they participate in a food bank program or other government programs like CalFresh (the former food stamps) or Medi-Cal. Kids qualify if they are in the free and reduced-price lunch program.
At the entrance to the store, a handout containing an income table is available for those who do not participate in any of these program to see if they qualify.
Goodman said he hopes the nonprofit store will become a key element of the food bank's mission to ease hunger in the North Coast. He hopes to start a trend among other food banks.
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