CARES Pantry Director Delores Watters, Director Todd Lipa, and Communications and Marketing Director Jennifer Chinn announce the upcoming Bridge and SNAP card store coming to the CARES campus.

CARES Pantry Director Delores Watters, Director Todd Lipa, and Communications and Marketing Director Jennifer Chinn announce the upcoming Bridge and SNAP card store coming to the CARES campus.

Photo by Jonathan Shead


Bridge, SNAP card grocery store coming to CARES campus

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published December 23, 2019

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FARMINGTON HILLS — A new brick-and-mortar Bridge and SNAP card grocery store will soon find a home on the Community Action Resources Empowerment Services of Farmington Hills campus, building upon the free food pantry already offered.

It will be the first standalone Bridge and SNAP card grocery store in Michigan, and possibly the Midwest, according to CARES Director Todd Lipa.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is a federal food assistance program that helps low-income individuals and families buy groceries from retailers. A Bridge card, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Assistance Program, does the same. Both programs use an electronic benefits transfer card, or EBT card, which is similar to a debit card.

It’s been Lipa’s vision to expand upon the nonprofit’s free food pantry with the addition of a grocery store that could assist the individuals served by CARES, since he saw how quickly the number of individuals in need increased. The CARES food pantry served approximately 140 families when it began in July 2017. Today, it serves approximately 780 families and 1,800 individuals, 69% of whom come from Farmington Hills.

With the acquisition of a $10,000 Community Thrives grant from the Gannett Foundation, that vision was one step closer to reality.

“We know that 38% of the people we serve have Bridge cards. I think it may be higher than that. I wonder sometimes if people don’t divulge that (information) because they think we won’t give them food,” said pantry Director Delores Watters. “There’s a need for the Bridge store. They’re reporting that they’re falling a week short of food every single month. They’re utilizing our free pantry because their Bridge card isn’t stretching through the month.”

Items in the Bridge store will be offered at more affordable costs than can be found at other establishments that accept the benefits programs, like party stores and gas stations, Watters said. The store will also offer more meat and fresh produce, items that are in high demand with the individuals they serve.

CARES isn’t looking to make a profit through the store, though any profits they do make will be funneled back into supporting the food pantry, which Watters said is “a never-ending battle” that needs more funding.

“There’s not a vision to make money as a profitable piece. The money made at the store will go right back into the need on the food pantry side of the operation,” Lipa said. “There’s not necessarily going to be a profit, but a reduction of worry on the food pantry side.”

CARES didn’t pursue this vision with the intention of taking customers away from other grocers and retailers in the space. Lipa said he talked to many of them in the area and even partnered with some, like Doug Busch, of Busch’s Market.

“We hope retailers understand we’re trying to help, too, by giving a family the chance to get quick items if they need it or be able to sustain themselves for a period of time longer than they might be sustaining themselves now,” he said.

Along with Busch’s Market, CARES is also working with D&B Grocers, a wholesale distributor in Westland, to stock their shelves with products and with the Michigan Milk Association to acquire the proper coolers needed for refrigerated items. Lipa is also hoping to partner with Detroit’s Eastern Market, which can provide fresh produce.

Overall, Lipa said the addition of the Bridge store could be the “biggest piece” to the growth of individuals and families served by the nonprofit.

“The growth will come. It will happen no matter what we do because the word is spreading,” he said. “Our hope is, as we grow in Southfield, Redford, Livonia, Northville, Novi and West Bloomfield, that those communities will find a way to support us, either through fundraising with us, community grant money or philanthropic corporations that can help us sustain our needs. We’ll be here.”

The Bridge store is slated to open during the first quarter of 2020, likely around late February or early March, Lipa said. Anyone with a Bridge or SNAP card, regardless of residency, will be able to shop at the store. Hours of operation will be consistent with the food pantry’s current hours.

For more information and updates, visit caresfh.org or find them on Facebook at “CARESFH.”

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