“Pasta salad, potato salad, or black beans and corn?” Aisha Willis asks as she passes out free lunches at Progressive Baptist Church in Dolphin Heights.
Willis is a coordinator for Amazon’s new initiative to provide free grocery delivery for SNAP customers — no membership fee required. SNAP is a federal program that provides food-purchasing assistance for residents with qualifying incomes.
More than 3 million Texans are eligible for SNAP benefits; 330,000 in Dallas County alone. A qualifying family of 4 typically receives about $248 a month.
The program launched on Jan. 1 in the DFW area, and Willis says 65,000 people already are signed up.
More than 50 people crowded the church’s community hall for Willis’ Lunch and Learn presentation. Tammy Johnson, executive director for South Dallas nonprofit Empowering the Masses, organized the event. They run a weekly-drive-through food pantry at the church.
“This is specifically for the areas that we serve. Those who live in food deserts,” Johnson says. “If they don’t have transportation or have an issue getting to the grocery store, this can help them.”
Young mom Kendra Dennis is interested in the program.
“It’s good for the community,” Dennis says as she fills out the membership form. Her 2-year-old son sits quietly next to her, drinking his juice. “The only grocery store that’s close to here is Fiesta.”
Willis says the USDA approached Amazon and other retail grocers in 2019 to create a pilot delivery program for SNAP recipients. Amazon piloted the program in six states on the East Coast, and then the pandemic began.
“The USDA calls back, and says, ‘Forget about the pilot, and just go for it,’ ” Willis says.
Amazon ramped up, expanding to 46 states and Washington, D.C., in a single year. Willis says Amazon reimburses does not receive any compensation from the USDA to provide this service. As a delivery-only service, Amazon may have an advantage over other grocers because they already have a robust transportation system in place.
As Amazon looked at how many customers were using the program, Willis says they felt like the program was a success. However, when they overlapped the overall SNAP usage with a map of folks in urban food deserts, they noticed that those customers weren’t ordering.
“So, why aren’t they ordering?” Willis asks.
She says her work as part of the underserved division for Amazon consumables led to more questions: Was it lack of access to technology? Did they not know about the program? Do they have technology, but don’t have the education to know how to leverage it?
Willis’ team was created to help spread the word about the Amazon SNAP program specifically in urban food deserts like South Dallas, she says.
Melvia McCoy already orders her groceries through Amazon.
“Laziness,” McCoy laughs, saying that’s just one of the reasons she uses the service. She does not receive SNAP benefits but finds that it’s cheaper to shop on Amazon than at the Fiesta in her neighborhood.
“It’s expensive,” McCoy says of Fiesta. “The bread, the meats, canned goods. They are cheaper on Amazon. That’s why I order online.”
The women sitting at McCoy’s table nod in agreement. McCoy continues that Fiesta’s shelves have not been well stocked in the last several months.
“I’d rather have it delivered instead of going out to try and find something that I can’t find in the stores.”
However, not everyone is convinced that delivery is the best option. Sharmaine Griffin has been coming to the church for about six months on Saturdays for the drive-through pantry.
Griffin worries about the timing of Amazon’s food delivery and the quality of the food. She was especially concerned about the meat.
“Meat-wise — I would probably be a little concerned because I haven’t ever had anything delivered before,” she says.
Willis says customers pick the day and time that they would like their groceries delivered at check out.
Still Griffin wasn’t convinced. She doesn’t receive SNAP benefits.
“By the time I pay my bills, I don’t have much left anyway,” Griffin says. “You make money, but you don’t make enough money to make ends meet.”
Willis says they are aware of folks like Griffin.
“Our main strategic pillar is food insecurity. However, we do recognize that if someone has food insecurity, they have other problems going on as well.”
Willis says they are partnering with different organizations that are working with economic mobility, education and literacy, health and wellness.
Linda Ramirez is hoping to partner with Amazon to benefit her own nonprofit, Dallas Legacy Mission. The nonprofit serves West Dallas and parts of Oak Cliff.
“I didn’t realize that you could do the SNAP benefits on Amazon without a membership,” Ramirez says. “Getting this information out to the community would definitely be helpful.”
For customers who qualify for government assistance, a membership for Amazon Prime is available for $5.99 a month. That’s about half of the typical membership cost.
Flra Whitaker is sitting at the same table as Griffin. She’s hesitant to try Amazon, but happy to know she has the option if she ever needs it.
“There might come a day when I might need that service,” Whitaker says, “but right now, I want to [get groceries at the store] for myself.”
How to use SNAP benefits with Amazon
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