Salvation Army Opens Nonprofit Grocery Store

Stores that offer a variety of healthy foods can be few and far in between for those who use food stamps. (Photo: Gorosi/Shutterstock)

The Salvation Army has a new concept for anyone who needs to stretch their grocery budget. Last week the organization opened DMG Foods, named after its motto "Doing the Most Good."

The grocery store in Baltimore is a 7,000-square-foot store that looks like any other grocery store. A video on the Salvation Army of Central Maryland's Facebook page takes you on a walk-through of the store on opening day. Along with aisles of non-perishables and dairy items, there's fresh produce, a butcher, a bakery, rotisserie chickens, a deli, and a prepared food section with items prepared by volunteers from the Maryland Food Bank. There's even a loyalty card program complete with coupons.

To open the store, the Salvation Army of Central Maryland partnered with the Maryland Food Bank, according to a statement on the Salvation Army's website. The food bank will provide the majority of the store's inventory. Local farmers and suppliers have also been tapped to provide fresh produce.

Grocery shopping plus social services

A recent study on nutrition inequality found that when full-service grocery stores with healthy options opened in low-income areas designated as food deserts, healthy eating didn't increase significantly. The missing piece was education.

Those who are better educated overall choose healthier foods and those who are educated specifically about nutrition make even better food choices. While DMG Foods can't do anything about overall education, the store can do something about nutrition education and it plans to do so. The store combines social services in the form of nutritional guidance, shopping education, workforce development and meal planning with grocery shopping.

By offering shopping education as well as low prices, DMG hopes to double the amount of food clients can purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamp) benefits. In-store cooking demonstrations, nutritional guidance and other forms of help will assist shoppers on a budget to choose healthier foods and to prepare those healthier foods. The store's website has more than 8,000 recipes with categories like 5 ingredients or less, under 30 minutes, budget-friendly, gluten-free, heart health, diabetes management and more.

(It's ironic that the current administration has a plan for revamping SNAP that includes giving families on the program boxes of processed, non-perishable goods. About half of a families' benefits would be in these America's Harvest Boxes, and families wouldn't get a say in what food they received. I think the Salvation Army's approach makes a lot more sense.)

The store also provides a five-week workforce development program for local residents. They'll receive training and hands-on food retail experience before a case manager helps them find jobs within the city of Baltimore with companies that DMG Foods partners with.

According to Mind Body Green, this store in Baltimore is a test location. If things work well, the Salvation Army hopes to open other DMG stores in areas that need them around the country.