wright van

Jimmy Wright, owner of Wright's Market in Opelika, checks out the new refrigerated delivery van he acquired as part of a federal pilot program aimed at better serving food stamp recipients in rural areas.

Wright’s Market in Opelika is rolling out a new service that allows federal SNAP (food stamp) recipients to order groceries online for delivery, as part of a federal pilot program.

Customers can use their EBT cards at wrightsmarkets.com just as anyone else would use their debit or credit cards to order from Wright’s online store and request delivery.

“So what it allows us to do is now we can add the other form of payment (EBT) to traditional (debit/credit) so we now can go offer the same thing payment options online that we offer inside our brick-and-mortar store,” said owner Jimmy Wright.

Online prices are the same as in-store prices, he said, but there is a minimum order amount of $9.95 for most orders. However, his customers won’t have to pay a premium for delivery of goods requiring refrigeration — unlike other delivery services.

It is part of a national pilot program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that has been three years in the making. Wright’s is the small, rural grocer in the program, which also includes Walmart, Amazon and ShopRite.

“We know there are people that need the service, even in the Auburn-Opelika area. The reasons that I really applied for the pilot is that, over the years, we continue to have requests from rural communities that want us to try to come in their communities with a store,” Wright explained.

“The challenge you have in those areas is population density — it’s very hard to make the brick-and-mortar store work. What you seeing in those areas is something like the Dollar General, which is a great company, but what’s missing there is fresh product, like produce … so this was my thought process about how we, could we, can maybe be a part of solution to that,” he said.

Alicia Powers, managing director of Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute, consulted with Wright during the USDA process and helped him secure a grant to purchase a new, refrigerated delivery truck to deliver fresh meat and produce to drop points in hamlets like Salem, Beulah, Marvyn and other far-flung parts of Lee and surrounding counties.

Powers said Wright’s initiative could address some lingering problems in rural America around nutrition and lack of access to fresh food.

“Some of these people have access to convenience stores; some don’t,” Powers said. “By adding SNAP online, delivery becomes more affordable for Jimmy and it increases accessibility (to fresh food) for those customers.”

Wright and Powers emphasize that it is early days yet.

Wright just launched the service last week, and he is still talking to churches and other groups in the small communities he’s targeting about hosting drop-offs on certain days of the week.

“We’re just going to have a different model. We’re trying to tie this also to some healthcare initiatives, whether it be dietitians — we’ve had a great partnership on some things with East Alabama Medical Center’s Diabetes and Nutrition Center,” he said.

“We’ve had some really good discussions with Lee Russell Council of Governments and how we can use some of their facilities, possibly in some areas as central delivery points. We’ve had good conversations with churches, so so that’s kind of the path we’re going down,” Wright added.

Powers said the program will monitored closely by researchers at Auburn, but neither she nor Wright would speculate on what shape it would take or what impact it could have on Wright’s Market.

“It’s kind of jump in and swim,” she said. “But we’re making sure we don’t jump into the deep end.”

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