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FAIRBANKS — Here’s one way to start the new year in a positive way — by promoting healthy eating for Fairbanks families. It’s an easy and innovative way to pay it forward.

The Shop & Share program is a unique collaboration between the Co-Op Market Grocery & Deli (in the old Food Land building) and the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC). It’s a no-pressure, completely volunteer way to help other members of the community.

And so far, it is very successful.

“On our end, Co-Op Market shoppers have purchased a little more than 200 items since the program started in October,” said Kristin Summerlin, marketing and owner services manager.

Here’s how it works:

When you are checking out at the Co-Op Market, all you have to do is purchase any of seven specific grocery items. These items are a dozen organic eggs, one pound ground turkey, a 24-ounce container of plain organic yogurt, a bag of frozen organic broccoli, a bag of frozen organic blueberries, a serving of healthy soup from the deli and a one pound bag of organic bulk oatmeal. 

All the items on the list are basic building blocks for a nutritious diet.

Shoppers just choose the items and then add the prices to their bills.

Vouchers are created for each item and returned to the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. AHFC selects families who can cash in the vouchers at the Co-Op Market and then enjoy the benefits of healthy eating.

The families who participate in this program are selected through AHFC’s JumpStart Program. These are families in the rental assistance program that are on their way to self-sufficiency. The Co-Op does not select recipients.

This program helps by allowing families to acquire healthy food.

According to manager Mary Christensen, the program helps serve neighbors who sometimes have trouble making ends meet. 

Sadly, some families must choose between paying for food or paying for power when bills are due at the end of every month. The program provides an opportunity for the Co-Op to be part of the community.

It took a while for families to redeem their vouchers, but Summerlin believes that is normal.

“It makes sense that families would need time to learn about the store and then come in (probably for the first time),” she said. “As with any customer, it takes coming in the door a couple of times before it becomes familiar and a regular part of the shopping routine.”

She said the Co-Op works closely with AHFC to meet families’ needs. A new survey was distributed to help make that happen.

“So far, it sounds like people are very happy and grateful for the program,” she said.

The Shop & Share program is modeled after the “Suspended Groceries” program pioneered by Williams College students at Wild Oats Market in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

A second program that is enjoying great success is the Co-Op’s Lend-A-Hand register round-up program. Shoppers who participate in this can opt to round up their change at the register and donate the difference to a community nonprofit organization.

“We raise money for a different organization each month,” Summerlin said. The groups are chosen by the Co-Op owners.

This year, 21 different organizations applied for the 11 spots. The 12th month is reserved for the Interior Center for Non-Violent Living.

“Having 21 different local groups apply just proves to me how many good people we have working to make life better in our community,” she said. “I know that it was incredibly difficult to choose just 11 of them.”

Since that program started in October 2013, shoppers have donated more than $33,000 in spare change.

“That’s even more remarkable when you consider that we were only rounding up every other month until 2015, when we responded to requests from our shoppers and started rounding up every month,” she added.

You can see the list of beneficiaries of this program at http://coopmarket.org/community/lend-a-hand.

Contact community editor and columnist Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.