Left to right Brian MacDonald CEO of Sunoco State Representative Thaddeus Kirkland Bill Clark president of Philabundance Chester Mayor John Linder Senator Dominic Pileggi and Congressman Bob Brady Photo Courtesy of PhilabundanceChorus Photography

(Left to right) Brian MacDonald, CEO of Sunoco; State Representative Thaddeus Kirkland; Bill Clark, president of Philabundance; Chester Mayor John Linder; Senator Dominic Pileggi; and Congressman Bob Brady.
Photo Courtesy of Philabundance/Chorus Photography

Nonprofit Retailer to Give Food Desert Fresh Access

CHESTER, Pa. — Starting next spring, the people of Chester, Pa. will be able to do something they haven’t been able to do in 11 years: go to a supermarket within city limits.

The hunger relief organization Philabundance is opening its first nonprofit “Fare & Square” supermarket concept here.

Fare & Square will have a free club membership and an emphasis on healthful, fresh foods. Philabundance expects that its 13,000 square-foot store will carry about 2,000 SKUs.

“It’ll be a focus of fresh produce, meats, fish, dairy, frozen food,” said Marlo DelSordo, Philabundance’s director of marketing and communications.

Fare & Square won’t be offering items like chips or junk food, DelSordo noted.

“Philabundance very much believes in choice, but we want to make sure we’re taking advantage of that space and offering folks the most amount of choice for the food staples and things that can create healthy meals.”

The group plans to keep prices low. All customers will qualify for a free membership, but low-income shoppers can get a membership that lets them earn “Fare & Square Bucks.”

“Every week that you make a purchase, you’ll accrue Fare & Square Bucks, and it’s essentially going to be a percentage off your future purchase,” she said.

“So let’s say you spend $70. The next time you come, you have $7 off. And this is only going to be offered to people who are meeting the income qualifications, and it’s all self-declared.”

Fare & Square will accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and is working so that it can accept Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children benefits, according to DelSordo.

“And we’ll also be going to do SNAP outreach on the premises because it’s a lot of paperwork, and it’s somewhat of a confusing application process so we’ll have folks on staff to help people sign up.”

Philabundance was motivated to open the nonprofit store partly because the hunger relief and food banking industry has been changing, DelSordo said. She said global weather has affected salvaged food availability, as has the recession, which caused items like day-old bread to now be sold at a discount dollar store instead of donated.

The organization was also looking to promote more food access to those living in food deserts in the Delaware Valley.

“It’s not just about getting food directly to people,” said DelSordo. “Philabundance in the last five years has looked more strategically: ‘How do I strengthen the hunger safety net? How do we help the agencies — the little food pantries and cupboards — put more out there and get things? And how do we help people who don’t have access to a grocery store?’”

After Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District — an area that includes Chester, Pa. — was singled out as the second hungriest district in the U.S. by the Food Research and Action Center, DelSordo said that politicians like Senator Dominic Pileggi and Congressman Bob Brad offered to help find funding. Philabundance raised about $4.8 million to launch the pilot and held its groundbreaking event last month.

Fare & Square will be sharing a building with Family Dollar. “It’s going to work out really well, because a lot of the stuff they sell, we won’t be selling.”

Many retailers have been supportive of the pilot store, DelSordo said, pointing to Giant Supermarkets, WaWa and ShopRite [2].

In addition to food industry people who are donating their time to the project, DelSordo said the group is hiring consultants to help with the store layout and merchandising.

For example, Philabundance has hired the nonprofit UpLift Solutions, founded by Jeffrey Brown, president and CEO Brown’s Super Stores. Brown runs 11 ShopRite stores, including several in food deserts.

After the pilot store, Philabundance has set its sights on expanding.

“The Fare & Square concept is something that we want to bring to other communities. Because as I said, with 35 food deserts in Delaware Valley, there are a lot of other places that could use a Fare & Square.”

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