DORA – The Corner Market mobile grocery store will visit The City of Lights Dream Center on the fourth Wednesday of each month to give residents around Dora the opportunity to buy healthy foods at wholesale prices.
The Corner Market is a service of the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and offers communities access to fresh fruit, vegetables, dry goods, meats, and dairy products, according to executive director Kathryn Strickland.
They launched the project in 2017. In the beginning, team members took it slow and learned how to operate a mobile grocery store. There aren’t many places providing this service, according to Strickland.
There was one example in Chattanooga, Tennessee. but the Corner Market team took a little different approach. The Corner Market wanted to carry a wider variety of foods, according to Strickland.
The program is designed to address what is called “food deserts.” These are communities and neighborhoods where there is not a brick and mortar grocery store or where the communities do not have access to healthy choices. Some of these communities struggle with reliable transportation, and there may be high rates of dietary diseases, according to Strickland.
The USDA has a “food desert” locator that helps identify areas where additional food services may be needed.
Before the Corner Market food truck enters into any community, they host community dialogs. The idea is to determine if the mobile store would be welcome. Also, they find out if people in the communities see a need for the program, according to Strickland.
The Corner Market team works with neighborhood associations and local non-profit groups. The Walker Area Community Foundation helped pave the way for the Corner Market to add stops in Dora and Oakman.
“We only want to go where the store is welcome,” she said. “We’re there to fill a gap, not to try and put someone out of business.”
One central feature is that the Corner Market accepts SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) benefits. Based on feedback, people in the communities appreciate SNAP benefits but say they have limited access to places that offer healthy foods.
“The whole aim of the Corner Market is to make healthy items not only accessible but also affordable,” Strickland said.
Another component of the Corner Market service is a program called the Double Up Buck program which is through the Fair Food Network.
The Double Up Buck program has about seven participating farmer’s markets, and when people spend SNAP dollars on fresh produce, they get matching vouchers that can be used for fresh local produce, according to Jules Bailey, who heads up the Double UP Bucks program.
For example, if someone uses SNAP benefits to buy $10 in produce, they get a voucher for $10 that they can use even when their SNAP benefits run out, according to Strickland.
“The reason we use $10 is that our produce prices are wholesale and you get so much for your investment,” Strickland said.
One issue facing people with limited food budgets is that it costs more to eat healthy foods than it does to eat unhealthy ones, according to Strickland.
“For example, broccoli might cost $1.93 a pound, but you can get a cheeseburger on special for a dollar,” she said. “When we have a limited food budget, it’s perfectly rational for us to invest in the less expensive and more filling food items because the healthy items cost more. With the Corner Market, we try to flip the script."
Even though people are buying items from the Corner Market, they are getting food at, or near cost, so it’s a non-profit program, according to Strickland. The money for personnel and the food truck comes from grant money.
One thing the Corner Market team has done in the past and would like to include more often are cooking demonstrations to show people how to prepare healthy meals.
Funding for the program comes from the Bruno Foundation, the Dairy Alliance, Publix Supermarket Charities, the Junior League Beeson Fund, Daniel Foundation, Hugh Kaul Foundation, Alabama Power Elevate Grant, Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, Alabama Department of Economic & Community, and the Walker Area Community Foundation.
Any company or individual that would like to support this effort can get details from the www.feedingal.org website.