ROCK Fresh Market: Providing Access to Healthy and Affordable Food
By Jimmy Williams, Chad Slider, Jill Schmidt
Eastern Star Church was founded nearly 100 years ago. Today, the church makes it their mission to “Renew Our Community for the Kingdom” (ROCK). The ROCK Initiative focusses on improving the quality of life in the 46218 community of Indianapolis through four different goals: Community, Housing, Finances, and Education. This community is characterized by a high rate of residents that live below and at the poverty line. Further, there is a 4.6% unemployment rate. In tandem to their goals, The ROCK Initiative built an apartment and community center with some human resources in the base of the building. In addition to Tiba Autism Services, The Rock Community Hub, and Financial FCU, the ROCK Fresh Market was created.
The Food Access Problem
Since the last grocery store closed in 2016 in the 46218 community, no new stores have opened. Without stores offering fresh produce, members of the community were not able to access fresh groceries and left with a higher reliance on fast food chains, unhealthy alternatives, and high-priced convenience stores with limited options. Consequently, this unhealthy lifestyle has led to diet-related diseases which were further promoted by a lack of knowledge of nutrition. The Rock Initiative noticed this problem and started to investigate further. With the help of the USA Food Desert Locator, the initiative was able to identify the 46218 community as an official food desert in the United States. According to the USDA, a food desert refers to a part of a location that lacks access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful foods due to a lack of grocery stores.
Supported by quantitative data, the ROCK initiative decided to open the ROCK Fresh Market. However, the initiative also recognized the importance of providing nutrition education within the community. Consequently, they decided to organize cooking classes for the community as well. Through opening the ROCK Fresh Market and organizing the cooking classes, a sense of belonging and care within the community is also fostered.
The Business Model
The unique business model that the ROCK Fresh Market utilizes is support from its parent and sister organizations, including the Eastern Star Church, ROCK Property Management and Jewel Human Services. ROCK Fresh Market leverages the Eastern Star Church to tap into the community for fundraising, volunteers and utilizes members of staff for managing the investment. ROCK Property Management is the landlord for ROCK Fresh Market. As a for-profit business, ROCK Property Management built the apartment complex that the market resides in and has also bought and renovated homes for reasonable rental options in the community. Jewel Human Services is the non-religious affiliated not for profit charity that the ROCK Fresh Market falls under. Having a non-religious charity affiliated with Eastern Star Church allows them to apply for grants and funding beyond what is typically available to religious originations and allows for more flexibility in financing and greater range for impact in the community.
Ashley Gurvitz’s serves as the Community Development Manager for the ROCK Initiative, which includes overseeing the operations of the ROCK Fresh Market, its two full-time employees and a network of volunteers to stock and run the cash registers. Part of the volunteer staff includes a purchasing agent that helps source the inventory needed for the market.
Measuring the impact of the ROCK Fresh Market can be divided into four main pillars. Firstly, the initiative evaluates company investment metrics. This includes total revenue as well as average earning per transaction. Further, the number and types of items sold as well as hours worked are tracked and monitored. Secondly, the volunteer contribution is measured. This includes the number of volunteers and exerted working hours. Thirdly, geographic metrics play an important role in terms of measuring impact. The initiative is not only interested in attracting as many people as possible. Therefore, an assessment (primary focus on 46218 zip code) of where shoppers are currently coming from is made. Fourthly, the Fresh Market follows not only the mission to provide access to healthy and fresh food, but also want to provide nutrition education for the community to achieve long-term success. The initiative, therefore, launched free cooking classes and measures impact by the number of participants.