November 22, 2017

This membership-only grocery store is fighting food insecurity in west Michigan

The Community Food Club in Grand Rapids is rethinking the charity food model

The Community Food Club in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a membership grocery store for families who are struggling to make ends meet. Members are living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Walk through the doors of the Community Food Club of Greater Grand Rapids and you will find produce carts full of oranges, bananas, potatoes, and carrots. You will see coolers stocked full of eggs and milk, walls lined with dry goods, and freezers full of meat.

While the Community Food Club looks like any other grocery store, it is anything but ordinary. Its unique model is turning the tides on food insecurity by giving 1,000 households in west Michigan access to both food and dignity each month.

Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Community Food Club began as a pilot project three years ago. A handful of organizations came together to try a new charity food model—one that takes charity out of the equation. Anyone who is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (a family of four needs to make less than $48,200) can qualify to become a member. Members pay $10 a month and are given a number of points based on their household size. With their points, members receive 9-11 days’ worth of food. They shop as often as they like and pick out foods that fit their family needs. There are no restrictions at the Food Club—people are free to spend the points any way they choose. This is not a handout, but a helping hand. And it’s a helping hand that many have fallen in love with.

Another thing to love about the Community Food Club? The prices. At the Food Club fruits and vegetables are the lowest priced products, while items high in sugar and fat are higher in price. This is to encourage healthy choices, but the key word is choice. Members can use their points as they see fit. Members love having access to fresh fruits and vegetables (they account for 37 percent of the Food Club sales—double the average sales at a retail grocery store). This is just one of a slew of great facts learned through the pilot project. In the past year alone, we know:

  • Members are more food secure. After 12 months of membership at the Food Club, 39 percent of participants reported cutting/skipping meals less frequently, and 23 percent of households reported worrying less about food.
  • Members have greater personal and/or financial stability. After 12 months of participation in the Food Club, 39 percent of members reported improvement in their ability to meet their basic needs.
  • Healthy foods are more accessible at the Food Club. After 12 months of participation in the Food Club, 26 percent of respondents reported that their diet is healthier.

As the pilot program comes to an end, the Community Food Club is looking to the future with great expectations. The organization is in the process of applying for its nonprofit status and looks forward to continuing to provide a space that houses more than just food, but true community, living up to the name of Community Food Club.

AJ Fossel

Community Food Club

AJ Fossel is the Executive Director of the Community Food Club and has spent the last decade working in the charitable food system in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her passions include nonprofit management, ice hockey, and most of all her two children and wonderful husband, Alex.