A Win for Chester: Union Foundation Donates $25G to City’s Fare & Square
By: Rick Kauffman
CHESTER >> The Fare & Square grocery store is one of a kind. It is the first and only non-profit grocery in the United States, but more importantly it is the sole food market in the city of Chester.
With the closing of Bottom Dollar on Edgmont Avenue after only five months of business, Fare & Square remains the only option for many of the city’s residents.
Thursday, the Philadelphia Union Foundation presented a check for $25,000 to Fare & Square to help expand the healthy food options available for the people of Chester.
“We’re excited about this, because before, Chester was a food desert,” said Mike Curry, Philadelphia Union Foundation chairman. “We’re hoping that this becomes one of the models that we hope to sustain.”
Set up through Philabundance, the Philadelphia-based non-profit food bank, the grocery was designed as a melding of community outreach — offering salaries above the minimum wage — and as a means for locals to obtain fresh alternatives to the not-so-healthy options that population economically distressed areas.
“In the world of food insecurity, most people go to pantries,” said Philabundance Executive Director Glenn Bergman. “We are trying to provide good jobs for people who live in Chester, to have people come in and shop in a nice store, and we provide programming for community groups.”
The starting salary for employees of Fare & Square can expect $9.50 an hour, with many employees earning more than $15 an hour.
With the introduction of the Philadelphia Union Foundation in 2012, the board of directors declared four pillars in which to focus its philanthropic efforts — education, safe places to play, healthy lifestyles and recreation.
In July 2012, a playground at Chester’s Science and Discovery School was constructed to promote education and safe places to play for children, while Thursday’s donation was another step in supporting healthy lifestyles for families of Chester.
“We’re giving hope and bringing energy to a community that has been pushed down,” said Dave Rowan, executive vice president and CEO of the Philadelphia Union. “To work with (community outreach groups) year-round, to make sure they’re safe, clean and that people utilize them, that’s what a sports team should do.”
“We hope that it’s an impetus to help bring other businesses to the area,” he said.
Once determined to be a “food desert” by the United States Department of Agriculture, which designates communities without healthy or affordable food, Chester featured little more than fast food and convenience stores.
“People for whom money has been tight, this is going to help them eat,” said Mike Basher, retail operations vice president for Fare & Square. “We’re here to help the community.”
Students from the Whizz Kids Academy, as well as students from Chester High School, were recipients of lunch and goodie bags after the presentation.
“Many of our students don’t have access to nutrition and healthy choices of food,” said Heather Jordan, who teaches lifestyle and autistic learning at Chester High School.
Holders of the Fare & Square Carrot Card, a rewards-based membership for people who earn 200 percent of the federal poverty line or less, receive text messages advertising giveaways of free produce.
“We’re not just a business, we’re giving back to the community,” Basher said, adding that 85 to 90 percent of Fare & Share’s employees live in Chester. “We’re serving people in the community, and we really need to know who our customers are.”
The donation by the Philadelphia Union Foundation was one of many ways in which Fare & Share maintains operations. Bergman stated that the goal isn’t to make a profit — he added the board has designated that any profits are to be returned to the staff or reintegrated into serving the community.
“Our goal is not to make money,” Bergman said. “Our goal is to raise enough money to keep the store here, and to make this a community center.”