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San Francisco’s new ‘free grocery store’ offers groceries without cost

San Fran's new $5.5 million free food "market" lets approved residents shop with benefits cards, take what they need, check out to track inventory, and leave without paying.

San Francisco’s Food Empowerment Market: A Lifeline for Those in Need

San Francisco has just launched its first “Free Food Market,” called the Food Empowerment Market, to help people who struggle to afford food.

This new project gives free groceries to those who have food stamps and might run out of money for food by the end of the month.

The city is spending $5.5 million on this program to make sure everyone has access to the food they need. The market started serving people last Sunday, providing a much-needed resource for those in need.

San Francisco's new 'free grocery store' provides groceries
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The Food Empowerment Market works like a regular grocery store, where shoppers use carts to pick their items, which are then weighed and scanned at the checkout. This system helps manage inventory efficiently.

The first market is in the Bayview-Hunters Point area, which faces food availability and crime challenges. To be eligible, you must live in specific zip codes, be a verified social services client, have dependents under 25 or food-related illnesses, and be referred by one of eleven community organizations. Eligible individuals get a benefits card, similar to a Costco card, to use the market once a month.

The Food Empowerment Market was started by Geoffrea Morris, who worked on passing the required laws back in 2021. Morris stressed that the market is meant to help with food costs, especially as prices go up due to inflation. Morris also talked about how food insecurity affects people in many ways, and the program aims to connect users with other city services they might need. The referral process is set up to make sure people can access the support systems available.

Bayview-Hunters Point, labeled a food desert by the USDA due to limited fresh food, faces challenges like high crime and economic struggles leading to grocery store closures.

The new market, supported by a $5.5 million grant, sources fresh produce from Rodriguez Brothers Ranch and relies on donations for non-perishables. Future plans include potential expansion to other low-income city districts if the Bayview-Hunters Point market succeeds.

The Food Empowerment Market launch is part of a series of controversial city programs, including the Managed Alcohol Program (MAP) by San Francisco’s Department of Public Health. MAP provides controlled alcohol doses to homeless individuals with addiction issues, aiming to reduce street homelessness and emergency service burdens. While some experts see MAP as a life-saving measure, critics argue for a focus on treatment programs over enabling addiction. This has sparked debates on the balance between supporting addiction and promoting recovery efforts.

In response to these initiatives, the community has shown mixed feelings. While some appreciate the innovative approach to food insecurity and homelessness, others are skeptical about the long-term effectiveness of such programs.

You might also be interested in: Uber starts self-driven cab services to pick up riders in San Francisco

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