Dillon Community Food Market provides 80% fresh food to Summit County residents in need

Carla Decker, director of programs at the Center for Family and Intercultural Resources, displays her new food pantry program Wednesday, June 22, 2022 at the Dillon Community Food Market. SmartChoice is software that allows a food market to serve shoppers with little to no barriers while providing critical data that helps the center better personalize the food they serve to the community.
Ileana Wright / Summit Daily News

The Dillon Community Food Market, operated by the Family and Cultures Resource Center, has made necessary changes in its operations to meet the needs of Summit County.

The Family Center has seen a 162% increase in visits to food markets as of 2021. According to previous reports, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in May of 2020, the resource center served an average of 1,100 people per week. During the week of June 13, 2022, the Family Center served 1,555 people.

With the way inflation has affected grocery prices, Brianne Snow, executive director of the Center for Family and Cultures Resource, said she’s heard that new food programs have helped families afford gas and rent. “This has become our new housing program,” Snow said, with families able to save up to $800 a month on groceries. The Family Center can still help out with the rent, but the priority now is food.

However, even with all the work the Family Center does to help fight hunger in Summit County, there is still a shortfall of nearly $2 million. Feeding America, a network of food stores and food banks across the country, estimates it will cost $1.89 million. To completely eliminate food insecurity in Summit County.

According to surveys conducted by the Family Center, 1 out of 13 residents of Summit County suffers from hunger. Feeding America also collected data showing 38% of Summit County’s population They are food insecure and earn a lot on federal assistance programs such as SNAP or WIC.

But Snow says 20% of shoppers each week are first-time shoppers, and she’s proud of how far they’ve come since the pandemic.

“We’ve come, in my opinion, really full circle,” she said.

The new food market system, SmartChoice, is not only bilingual but also set up with the goal of making it easy to understand for those who can’t read. Moreover, it has paved the way for the food market to constantly serve its customers who are feeling the effects of food scarcity.

SmartChoice, a food storage program, was brought to the Dillon site in November of 2021 after employees saw the need for healthier food selection and better food customization. Carla Decker, director of programs at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said that when thinking about the new program system, they spoke to many of the different food stores they had used before. What sold her, Decker said, was the resounding message that she gave customers a better experience while visiting the pantry.

“If that’s the only thing this provides, it’s worth it to me,” Decker said.

Hypothetically, if a new shopper came to the Dillon Community Food Market for the first time, this would look like this:

When they walk in the door, on the left are two computers, each with volunteers willing to take their name, age, number of people in their home and city of residence. There is no income requirement.

After entering this information, the volunteer gives the shopper a card with his name and password on it. Behind them, in the center of the room, are tables with six different stations, and in each of them there is a volunteer with a laptop.

From the laptop, the shopper uses the SmartChoice software to choose the food they want to order along with the number of points they have earned at the front desk. The base number of points for a family is 25 points, with an additional 10 points for each adult, and 5 additional points for each child.

Brianne Snow, executive director of the Center for Intercultural Family and Resources, stands among a pile of carrots and boxes of diapers in the back room of the Dillon Community Food Market on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Eli Wright / Summit Daily News

While a shopper is waiting for their food, they can read the bulletin board, or if they qualify for SNAP or WIC, they can earn extra points by signing up for the program at the desk in the corner of the waiting room.

When their order is completed, the shopper’s name is announced and the order is placed to the right of the volunteers’ tables.

Because of help from the Food Bank of the Rockies, the Family Center can buy up to $200 of groceries for just $22.36. This enables the organization to deliver between 70% and 80% of fresh food to the community, including vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy products. Customers can also visit every week, not once a month.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Snow heard time and time again that the food they were serving wasn’t good for families.

“None of us have ever felt very comfortable distributing unhealthy, processed foods during the health crisis,” she said.

On the other hand, Snow added, people were saying, “It’s not great that you have such lousy food. We can afford the food you give us, and what we can’t afford is what you don’t.”

When it comes down to it, Snow said, families can buy a can of soup at the grocery store, but they can’t afford production, rent, or gas. So when Decker suggested SmartChoice, Snow said she couldn’t refuse.

“There would never be a good time to switch, in my opinion, so we had the bad time and went with him,” Snow said. “It was not just about what we delivered, but the way we delivered it.”

The food market can now serve up to 20 different products to kids and can be adjusted based on the data they receive from SmartChoice.

However, Snow said their shipments and food donations can sometimes vary. So, SmartChoice’s points system helps the food market keep small amounts of food like Whole Foods muffins (which Decker said will be priced at 10 points) while at the same time encouraging shoppers to buy healthier options like apples (which Decker said can be priced at 0.01 points). She said this also helps shoppers practice budgeting.

The food market can also supply toiletries such as nappies, tampons, wipes, COVID-19 tests and more.

These days, Snow said, the Family Center prefers financial donations rather than food donations so they can fund their own fresh food.

More information on location, time, and data about food markets can be found on the Family Center website at SummitFIRC.org.

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