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Carla Decker, Director of Programs at the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, showcases her new grocery store software on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 at the Dillon Community Grocery Market. SmartChoice is software that allows the grocery marketplace to serve shoppers with virtually no barriers, while also providing critical data that helps the center better distribute the products they provide to the community.
Eileane Wright/Summit Daily News

The Dillon Community Food Market, operated by the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, has made the necessary changes to its operations to meet the needs of Summit County.

Compared to 2021, the number of visits to food markets at the family center increased by 162%. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020, the resource center was serving an average of 1,100 people per week, according to previous reports. For the week from June 13, 2022, the family center served 1,555 people.

Given the way inflation has affected food prices, Brianna Snow, executive director of the Center for Family and Intercultural Resources, said she heard the new meal programs have helped families afford both gas and rent. Because families can save up to $800 a month on groceries, “this has become our new housing program,” Snow said. The family center can still help with rent, but food is now a priority.



However, despite all the work the family center is doing to fight hunger in Summit County, there is still nearly $2 million missing. Feeding America, a nationwide network of food warehouses and food banks, estimates that this cost $1.89 million completely eliminate food insecurity in Summit County.

According to surveys conducted by the family center, 1 in 13 people in Summit County is hungry. Feeding America also collected data that shows 38% of Summit County residents are food insecure and earn too much to participate in federal assistance programs such as SNAP or WIC.



But Snow says 20% of their shoppers are doing it for the first time every week, and she’s proud of how far they’ve come since the pandemic.

“We have gone, in my opinion, really full circle,” she said.

The new SmartChoice food market system is not only bilingual, but designed to be understandable to those who cannot read. On top of that, it has also paved the way for the food market to consistently serve its customers feeling the effects of food shortages.

SmartChoice, a food storage software, was brought to Dillon in November 2021 after employees saw a need for healthier food choices and better food distribution. Carla Decker, director of programs at the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, said that when reviewing the new software system, they spoke to many different food pantries who had used it before. Decker said she was drawn to the high-profile message that it gives customers a better experience when visiting the food pantry.

“If that’s the only thing he gives, then it’s worth it to me,” Decker said.

Hypothetically, if a new customer first came to the Dillon Community grocery market, it would look like this:

As they enter the door, there are two computers on the left, each with volunteers ready to give their name, age, number of people in their family, and city of residence. There are no income requirements.

After this information is entered, the volunteer gives the customer a card with his name and password. Behind them, in the center of the room, are tables with six different stations, each with a volunteer with a laptop.

On a laptop, the customer uses the SmartChoice software to choose which food they would like to order, based on the number of points they were given at the check-in desk. The base family score is 25 points, with an additional 10 points for each adult and an additional 5 points for each child.

Brianna Snow, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, stands between a pile of carrots and boxes of diapers in the back room of the Dillon Food Market on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Ailey Wright/Summit Daily News

While the customer is waiting for their meal, they can read the bulletin board or, if they are eligible for SNAP or WIC, they can earn extra points by signing up for the program in the office in the corner of the waiting room.

When their order is completed, the customer’s name is announced and their order is posted to the right of the volunteers’ tables.

With help from the Food Bank of the Rockies, the family center can buy up to $200 worth of groceries for just $22.36. This allows the organization to serve the public 70% to 80% fresh food, including vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy products. Customers can also visit every week instead of just once a month.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Snow heard over and over again that the food they provided was not helping the families.

“None of us felt incredibly good handing out processed, unhealthy foods during a health crisis,” she said.

Snow added that, on the other hand, people were saying, “It’s disgusting to get this crappy food. We can afford the food you give us, we can’t afford what you don’t give us.”

When it comes down to it, Snow said, families can afford to buy a can of soup at the grocery store, but they can’t afford groceries, rent or gas. So when Decker suggested SmartChoice, Snow said she just couldn’t say no.

“In my opinion, there was never a right moment to transition, so we just took a bad moment and went with it,” Snow said. “It’s not just about what we delivered, but how we delivered it.”

The food market can now serve up to 20 different baby products and can adjust based on the data they receive from SmartChoice.

However, according to Snow, their supplies and food donations can sometimes differ. In this way, the SmartChoice points system helps the food market keep a small number of products, such as Whole Foods cakes (which Decker says will be worth 10 points), while at the same time encourages customers to buy healthy products, such as apples (which, according to Decker, can be estimated at 0.01 points). She said it also helps buyers practice budgeting.

The food market can also provide toiletries such as diapers, tampons, wipes, COVID-19 tests, and more.

Snow said the family center prefers cash donations over food donations these days so they can fund their fresh produce.

More information about location, times and food market data can be found on the Family Center website at SummitFIRC.org.

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