Dillon Community Food Market serves 80% fresh food to Summit County residents in need
The Dillon Community Food Market, run by the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, has made necessary changes in its operations to meet the needs of Summit County.
The family center has experienced a 162% increase in visits at their food markets from 2021. According to past reporting, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in May of 2020, the resource center served an average of 1,100 people per week. During the week of June 13, 2022, the family center served 1,555 people.
With the way inflation has affected grocery prices, Family & Intercultural Resource Center Executive Director Brianne Snow said she has heard that new food programming has helped families to afford both gas and rent. With families being able to save up to $800 a month in groceries, “this has become our new housing program,” Snow said. The family center can still help with rent, but now, the priority is food.
However, even with all of the work the family center does to help fight hunger in Summit County, there is still an almost $2 million shortfall. Feeding America, a network of food pantries and food banks across the country, estimates that it would cost $1.89 million to completely eliminate food insecurity in Summit County.
According to surveys that the family center has conducted, 1 in 13 summit county residents experiences hunger. Feeding America has also collected data that shows 38% of Summit County residents are food insecure and earn too much for federal assistance programs like SNAP or WIC.
But Snow says that 20% of their shoppers every week are first-timers, and she is proud of how far they’ve come since the pandemic.
“We’ve come, in my opinion, really full circle,” she said.
The food market’s new system, SmartChoice, is not only bilingual, it is also set up with a goal to make it easily understandable for those who are not able to read. On top of that, it has also paved the way for the food market to consistently serve its clients feeling the effects of food scarcity.
SmartChoice, a food pantry software, was brought to the Dillon location in November of 2021 after staff saw a need for healthier choice in food and better food allocation. Carla Decker, the director of programs at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said that when considering the new software system, they spoke to many different food pantries who had used it before. Decker said what sold her was the resounding message that it gave clients a better experience while visiting a food pantry.
“If that’s the only thing this provides, it’s worth it to me,” Decker said.
Hypothetically, if a new shopper came into the Dillon Community Food Market for the first time, this is what it would look like this:
When they walk in the door, to the left there are two computers, each with volunteers ready to take their name, age, the number of people in their household and their town of residency. There is no income requirement.
After that information is entered, the volunteer gives the shopper a card with their name and password on it. Behind them, in the center of the room, there are tables with six different stations, and at each there is a volunteer with a laptop.
From the laptop, the shopper uses the SmartChoice software to pick out what food they would like to order with the amount of points they were given at the front desk. The base number of points for a household is 25 points, with an additional 10 points for each adult, and an additional 5 points for each child.
While the shopper waits for their food, they can read the bulletin board, or if they are eligible for SNAP or WIC, they can earn extra points by signing up for the program in the office at the corner of the waiting room.
When their order is finished, the shopper’s name is announced and their order is presented to the right of the volunteer tables.
Because of the aid from the Food Bank of the Rockies, the family center can buy up to $200 of groceries for only $22.36. This enables the organization to serve between 70% and 80% of fresh food to the community, including vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products. Clients can also visit every week, not just once a month.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Snow heard over and over again that the food they were providing wasn’t helpful to the families.
“None of us felt incredibly great about handing out processed, unhealthy foods during a health crisis,” she said.
Snow added that on the other side, people were saying, ”It doesn’t feel great to be given this crappy food. We can afford the food you’re giving us, what we can’t afford is what you’re not giving us.”
When it came down to it, Snow said, families can afford to buy a can of soup at the grocery store, but they couldn’t afford produce, rent or gas. So when Decker suggested SmartChoice, Snow said she just couldn’t say no.
“There wasn’t ever going to be a good time to switch, in my opinion, so we just took the bad time and went with it,” Snow said. “It wasn’t just what we provided, it was how we provided it.”
The food market now can serve up to 20 different kids of produce and can adjust based on the data they receive from SmartChoice.
However, Snow said, their shipments and food donations can sometimes vary. Therefore, the point system SmartChoice provides helps the food market to preserve small amounts of food like Whole Foods cakes (which Decker said would be priced at 10 points) and at the same time encourages shoppers to purchase healthy choices like apples (which Decker said can be priced at 0.01 of a point). She said this also helps shoppers to practice budgeting.
The food market can also provide toiletries like diapers, tampons, wipes, COVID-19 tests and more.
Snow said that these days, the family center prefers monetary donations instead of food donations so they can fund their fresh food.
More information about location, time, and data about the food markets can be found on the family center’s website at SummitFIRC.org.
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