The Salvation Army is set to open its first in the nation non-profit grocery store in East Baltimore Wednesday. WYPR’s Dominique Maria Bonessi caught up with the organizers to see how it will all work.
The store, at the corner of Barclay and East 29th streets near the Barclay and Better Waverly neighborhoods, is called DMG foods.
Major Gene Hogg, the Salvation Army’s Central Maryland commander, gave me a tour of the roughly 7000 square-foot facility attached to the non-profit’s Christmas present donation warehouse.
“We decided to take a look at what we can do to sustain a community instead of entering into it on an as need basis," said Hogg.
He says the store’s mission is to provide affordable and healthy food options to local residents, especially those receiving food stamps.
“Somebody can come in and if they’ve identified that they are SNAP benefit or a WIC benefit then they’ll have certain coupons available to them," Hogg said. "They can print a coupon off one of our kiosks. Come over hand it to our butcher and get an amount of free chicken.”
But Hogg says the store isn’t just for those on food stamps. He also wants those on tight budgets to shop here.
“We don’t want the economics to play into the factor of who shops at the store," said Hogg.
While there are a handful of non-profit grocery stores in the United States, this is the Salvation Army’s first venture into that world. Anne Palmer, director of the Food Communities and Public Health Program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says some things need to be taken into account for the non-profit model to work.
“You know product mix is important," Palmer said. "Price is really important, sometimes when you are moving to neighborhoods where there is more of a mixed income, you have a better opportunity of meeting that balance and being able to stay in business.”
The Barclay and Waverly neighborhoods may meet that mix. Hogg agrees and says the city wants him to open more stores.
“The city wants me to open up other locations," Hogg said. "And I said to them, we gotta make sure the model works first. I mean this is the first ever!”
According to Feeding America, 23 percent of Baltimoreans have a hard time finding healthy food choices.
“Baltimore like any major metropolitan area with these food desert issues, they’ve tried for years to bring grocers into the food deserts," said Hogg.
But the Barclay and Waverly neighborhoods are considered low priority for access to healthy foods in the city’s own 2018 Food Environment Report, especially compared with areas in West Baltimore, like Edmondson Village and Harlem Park.
Palmer says that food sovereignty issues of who is distributing and deciding what food gets sold, are also big factors of the non-profit model’s success.
“Who’s making the business decisions, who is deciding what food comes into the store and what doesn’t come in. And then who is benefiting from that?” said Palmer.
Major Hogg says the name for the store comes from the Salvation Army’s motto, “Doing the Most Good.”
“That’s not statement for us. For us that’s a promise," said Hogg.