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Redwood Empire Food Bank's Value Market aims to fight hunger

  • Tom Webb, left, manager-in-training at Value Market grocery store and volunteer Jim Thomson, right, sort through produce at the store in Santa Rosa, Friday, Aug. 9, 2013.

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.

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