Jimmy Wright is committed to getting groceries to all who need it, regardless of tender. The owner of Wright's Market in Opelika, Alabama was the first independent retailer to offer SNAP online through the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot, and has spoken before Congress about the need to lower the cost of entry for other independents into SNAP online.
Now Wright is taking his dedication to the local food-insecure community further with Healthy Food Hotspots, a program he is launching with Auburn University. Through mobile healthy food hotspots, students using university technology will assist Alabama’s senior citizen population and families with young children in ordering groceries online, which Wright's Market will deliver to a centralized location for the recipients to pick up.
Wright says the program will help reduce a core roadblock many rural SNAP online shoppers have: transportation. “Practically everybody that we do online SNAP for is a delivery customer. It validates the fact that, for a lot of these people, transportation is the issue," Wright says.
Using Wright's Market's eCommerce platform, SNAP recipients can place their online orders. That sounds simple, but Wright had to ensure his platform was up to the task of processing multiple transactions, as most SNAP shoppers don't only order SNAP eligible items. Before embarking on the Healthy Food Hotspots program with Auburn, Wright partnered with Freshop—who is also IGA’s eCommerce program partner—to launch his eCommerce site.
With those technical roadblocks out of the way for the Wright's Market eCommerce site, the Auburn University students can coach SNAP online shoppers through the payment process. "The pandemic sent people online who had never shopped online ever before,” Wright says. "And navigating that whole process, for someone who has never done it before, can be difficult."
Internet access can also be an issue for people in the area, notes Dr. Alicia Powers, managing director of Auburn University's Hunger Solutions Institute, in a Grocery Dive article. “Broadband connectivity is a great challenge here now, as well as having devices that can allow for online shopping and redemption,” she says.
Healthy Food Hotspots hopes to address that issue by bringing iPads, wi-fi hotspots, and other internet access, which were funded thanks to the 24-hour Tiger Giving Day at the university in February, which raised nearly $12,000.
Wrights and Powers hope to launch the program by the fall, once it's safe to gather in larger groups again so that they can meet online SNAP shoppers in person to discuss the program and ease any fears about providing credit card information online.
In addition to the Healthy Food Hotspots initiative, Wright's Market will continue to offer their 50 percent discount on fruits and vegetables purchased with SNAP benefits, which helps to bridge the gap between socioeconomic disadvantage and nutritious food. With about 44 percent of his shoppers on SNAP, that's a significant savings to a significant population, honoring Wright's commitment to getting healthy food in the hands—and mouths—of those who need it.
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