The Salvation Army has just announced a grocery brand under the name DMG Foods by inaugurating their first location in Baltimore, MD. The charity is calling it, "The Salvation Army's first nonprofit grocery store," and is planning on opening future stores in underserved communities that are sometimes referred to as "food deserts."
According to their website the store is, "Named after The Salvation Army’s branding promise of doing the most good, DMG Foods aims to expand the food availability for the community while also meeting the immediate needs of our customers." The location is 7,000 square feet, and by partnering with the Maryland Food Bank, it features some of the amenities that consumers have come to expect- like a rewards program, daily meal solutions, and cooking demonstrations. What sets this grocery store apart though is that since it is operated by The Salvation Army, profits end up going to support programs like ending human trafficking or curing diseases. The nonprofit has been operating under this model with their thrift stores, but this first test store could mark the beginning of a new way for the charity to support communities.
Their goal of opening grocery stores in communities that currently have no access to fresh food or grocery stores is worth noting too. According to The Food Trust, "A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 23.5 million people lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home... And a nationwide analysis found there are 418 rural “food desert” counties where all residents live more than 10 miles from a supermarket or supercenter— this is 20 percent of rural counties." In a city, where someone might not have either a car, access to public transportation, or time to use public transportation- not having a grocery store within a mile is a huge deal, and can mean the difference between having access to fresh food and having to settle for a convenience store that doesn't have as healthy of options. Even in a rural community where cars are more abundant, 10 miles is a long stretch- especially if your car is broken down and you're running out of food.
This gap in access to fresh food takes a toll on an individuals' health, and is a problem that needs to be solved. In that same study, The Food Trust states that, "A multistate study found that people with access to only supermarkets or to supermarkets and grocery stores have the lowest rates of obesity and overweight and those without access to supermarkets have the highest rates... In Chicago and Detroit, residents who live farther from grocery stores than from convenience stores and fast food restaurants have significantly higher rates of premature death from diabetes." This means that the simple fact of not having a grocery store within access to you directly impacts your health negatively, and is something that millions of Americans deal with daily.
#DMGFoods officially opened in Baltimore today as The Salvation Army's first grocery store, uniquely combining workforce-development programs, supplemental benefits, cooking demonstrations and more with grocery shopping in a food desert. Check it out at https://t.co/7PzaJk3Rgd! pic.twitter.com/4m71Z37YJM— Salvation Army USA (@SalvationArmyUS) March 7, 2018
This comes at a time where the online giant Amazon who bought the high end grocery store chain Whole Foods, has also recently opened a lower cost 365 brand location in New York. While Amazon seems to just trying to occupy a more competitively priced level to compete in the heavily contested grocery marketplace and DMG Foods seems to be trying to alleviate a source of food insecurity in their first test market, it will be interesting to see how these two strategies operate in relation to each other. That is to say that if Amazon continues the path that the current national grocery operators are walking on, or not serving broad swaths of the country, it's hopeful to know that a well resourced organization like the Salvation Army is now attempting to solve a long standing problem.
The importance of healthy eating has never been more in the public consciousness than now. Michelle Obama writes on the website for her Let's Move campaign, "In the end, as First Lady, this isn't just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition." If the former First Lady says that she's that committed to solving this real problem, then that's a phenomenal asset to the cause at large.
While food deserts do exist in America's underserved communities, there has also been a groundswell in information, awareness, and advocacy on the problem. Oscar award winning documentaries about food abound, healthy eating campaigns are happening, people know what kale and quinoa are enough to make jokes about it on late night television. Legislators are beginning to ask questions and submit bills. The Salvation Army is attempting to directly alleviate the problem by opening a new store in Baltimore. These are all great strides that are happening in an effort to bring fresh food to the communities that need them the most.
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