A New Approach from the Next Generation

Williamstown, Mass. - Williams College students Meg Richardson, Lucas Elek, Catharine Parker and Jessica Bernheim believe that solving food security issues requires more than a band-aid approach. As members of Kinetic, a student-run think tank where students learn how to move from theoretical conversation to meaningful action, they worked together throughout the 2013/2014 school year to develop an innovative, practical approach to food assistance. The students hope to shift people’s thinking about this issue while addressing the immediate concern of making healthy foods available to those who are food insecure.

The students named their solution Suspended Groceries, after Suspended Coffees, the pay-it-forward phenomenon that started in Naples, Italy and has made its way stateside to cafes and coffee-shops from Maine to California.

Suspended Groceries, now in place at Wild Oats Market in Williamstown, Mass. (the first grocery store in the region—maybe even the country—to implement it), allows shoppers to “suspend” one or more of the designated grocery items for another shopper to pick up later. A snapshot of items that have been on the Suspended Groceries list, chosen for their broad appeal and nutrient value, include:

  • 1 carton of locally raised eggs from free-running chickens
  • 1 32 oz. container of organic yogurt
  • 1 package of organic baby carrots
  • 1 10 oz. package of organic frozen fruit
  • 1 lb. of organic rolled oats
  • 1/2 gallon locally produced low-fat milk
  • 1 cup of house-made soup

Shoppers who wish to suspend an item for someone else can do so when they check out. They simply choose a coupon for the item they wish to suspend from the display at the register. The cashier adds it to their order and the item is “suspended” in the Wild Oats system.

Each week, Wild Oats totals Suspended Grocery purchases for the previous seven days, issues a coupon for each purchase and gives the coupons to the Berkshire Food Project in North Adams, Mass., which distributes them.

To pick up a suspended item, the coupon recipient just visits the store, selects the food that matches the picture on the coupon and exchanges the coupon for the item at any register.

Suspended Groceries is new, both to the Wild Oats community and in the way it approaches food support. When I asked the students what their “wildest dreams” for Suspended Groceries were, they said that they hoped the concept is adopted by more grocery stores in the area and across the nation, where ultimately Suspended Groceries exists in every grocery store in every community in partnership with that community’s local food pantry, food bank, or food support organization. Their hope is that Suspended Groceries helps to normalize food support, because, in the spirit of a note left by someone on the Suspended Coffees web site, “everyone needs a little help every now and then.”

As of September 16, 2014, shoppers have donated over $1,600 and 529 items in Suspended Groceries to the Berkshire Food Project. The program was implemented in May 2014. The most popular item to be donated is 1 dozen eggs.

Republished with permission from Wild Oats Market.