Kinetic, Wild Oats create suspended grocery system

Wild Oats will implement a suspension program for groceries to help food-insecure households in the Berkshires.
Wild Oats will implement a suspension program for groceries to help food-insecure households in the Berkshires. Photo courtesy of wildoats.com

In the past few weeks, Kinetic, a student-run think tank based out of the Center for Learning in Action, has started to talk with the management at Wild Oats Market in Williamstown about launching a suspended grocery system. Kinetic hopes to start a trial phase in early April.

In a suspended grocery system, customers are given the option at checkout of choosing from a list of healthy, perishable items to ‘suspend’ for other individuals. The suspended items are then counted as coupons, which are given to local food pantries to assist low-income community members. The system was inspired by a trend in Italian coffee shops, where customers are able to ‘suspend’ a second cup of coffee in addition to buying their own cup of coffee. When a customer suspends a cup, the cashier makes a mark on a public chalkboard, indicating to other customers that there is one pre-paid cup of coffee available.

“It’s a really dignified way to support the community in times of financial difficulty,” Jessica Bernheim ’16, a Kinetic member, said. “We wanted to take that concept and expand it to the grocery store setting.”

Kinetic members are particularly excited to launch the program at Wild Oats. “As a food cooperative, this type of project is particularly in line with their values because they are so community-focused,” Bernheim said.

According to Bernheim and Catharine Parker ’16, the suspended grocery system offers a more personal way to help other people. Rather than agreeing to donate to a charity at checkout, as is often an option in grocery stores, customers are able to buy grocery items for another person on the spot.

The Food Insecurity implementation team, one of Kinetic’s teams, is spearheading the suspended grocery program. Kinetic consists of 65 members, who are divided into six groups with two co-leaders each. Every team has two contingencies: a design group and an implementation group. “The idea is that the design group doesn’t need to be restricted in terms of creativity and the implementation group can focus on the practical issues that arise when the creative ideas become more of a reality,” Bernheim

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said. Kinetic’s teams are focused on issues including sustainable agriculture, energy reduction, teacher recruitment, distracted driving and water supply and the ways in which these issues are being addressed by both the private and public sectors.

“The most ambitious iteration of our goal is to see the system implemented nationally. We want to generate a self-sustaining shift in the way food insecurity is viewed,” Bernheim said. “This is a way to involve the entire community.”

In the short term, if both Wild Oats customers and the recipients respond well to the system, Kinetic hopes to continue to expand the program by bringing it to other grocery stores in the Berkshires. “What we would ideally like to see, in the not-so-distant future, is that the system has been implemented in a variety of grocery stores in this area,” Bernheim said.

  • KW

    Actually, Wild Oats is in Williamstown, just west of the Colonial Shopping Center

  • TL

    Kinetic has groups focusing on issues including sustainable agriculture, energy reduction, teacher recruitment, distracted driving and water supply and the ways in which these issues are being addressed by both the private and public sectors. (The Hunger Team or Food Insecurity Team is working on the Suspended Groceries program).

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