BALTIMORE -- The Salvation Army made its first foray into retail food last week with the opening of a grocery store in Baltimore. The store is an attempt to bring more fresh foods to the city’s underserved neighborhoods, as well as job training for those in need.
Deriving from the Salvation Army’s motto of “Doing the Most Good,” the 7,000-square-foot DMG Foods store provides groceries to nutrition-poor areas where people have limited access to low-cost, healthy food—also known as food deserts. Like most grocery stores, DMG offers produce, snacks, beverages and cleaning supplies, and its Red Shield Club loyalty program provides special pricing and promotions for members. For St. Patrick’s Day, customers can purchase a pound of Reuben corned beef brisket with a pound of fresh green cabbage for less than $4.
The concept stemmed from the nonprofit’s efforts to deliver more than 150 grocery bags daily to citizens affected by the 2015 protests in Baltimore, prompted by the death of Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody. Local bodegas were the go-to spots to purchase food prior to the protests, but they were forced to shut down afterward because they lacked inventory insurance, Maj. Gene Hogg, area commander of the Salvation Army of Central Maryland, told CSP Daily News.
“It just wasn’t sustainable,” he said of the weekly delivery service. “We needed to look at how we could better utilize our resources to meet the food insecurities of our area.”
If the concept proves successful, the store may extend beyond Baltimore, Hogg said. The Salvation Army wants to install DMG Foods both nationwide and internationally and has seen interest from Canada, Australia and New Zealand about opening locations.
“Food deserts are a worldwide issue,” he said. “If we can make this work, Baltimore will want at least two or three more locations, and other areas across the country will look to see if it’s feasible for them to do so as well.”
The Salvation Army hopes to employ Baltimore’s community members in DMG’s workforce development program, providing them with the tools to eventually work in a regular grocery store. “[We’ll] teach them interpersonal skills and how to manage their time to get them ready for the workplace,” Hogg said. “The local groceries say that if we do this, they’ll hire them.”
DMG features an on-site butcher, supplemental benefits, cooking demonstrations and more. “Choice can distinguish dependency and being self-sufficient,” Hogg said. “The more choices you give someone, the more freedom they have, which encourages them to move forward. … We teach them about affordability, fresh food, variety and healthy eating—not just how to prepare frozen foods.
“Our business isn’t selling food, it’s building community,” he said. “We just happen to sell food now.”