Roughly 42 million individuals in the United States rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. And in Tennessee alone, nearly one in seven people rely on SNAP benefits.
Country star Brad Paisley and his wife, actor Kimberly Williams-Paisley, are tackling the large problem of food insecurity in Nashville by creating a nonprofit grocery store in which all items are free of charge.
The Store, expected to open in 2019, will provide those in need with a selection of perishable and nonperishable groceries for free. All shoppers at The Store will need to be referred by local food banks or public agencies. The Store is partnering with a local organization, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, whose dietitians will help set nutritional guidelines in the store. The Store will have aisles dedicated to addressing the health concerns of its members, like a section of food specifically for those dealing with diabetes, Gina Hancock, the executive director of The Store, said over the phone.
Hancock said the organization wants to serve those falling through the cracks in the system and are unable to have their needs met. “We know, through research, that what people consider fixed costs are the costs they pay first — rent, transportation, childcare,” she said. “You don’t pay for food. Food is the last thing on your mind. We’re trying to help alleviate that as an issue and [take] that pressure off someone working two jobs.”
Hancock said that unlike traditional food pantries, The Store will ultimately give its members the power of choice. “At some pantries in the past, you walk up to the back of a church or a building and you’re handed a box of food and it might not even be food you want to eat,” Hancock said. “It doesn’t feel good to anybody, [...] but we’re taking it to a place where you’re going home with things you actually want to eat.” Though, choice can sometimes lead to unhealthier selections: Researchers have found that when low-income areas are provided with access to grocery stores containing healthier, cheaper options, they tend to stick by their unhealthier preferences, though Hancock said the goal for The Store is to incorporate nutritional guidelines into the selection process.
The Store aims to serve at least 3,000 people each year, with each member guaranteed up to a year of access. The organization wants to fundraise $500,000 before breaking ground in March. According to a press release, Paisley and Williams-Paisley were inspired by a similar “free” grocery store in Santa Barbara, California, where the couple volunteered. “This is a grocery store with dignity for people who have fallen on hard times,” Paisley told the Tennessean. “All of us are one unforeseen disaster away from rock bottom. It’s nice to think about a place where when that happens to someone, they can use it to get back on their feet.”