The New Zealand capital Wellington is now home to quite a remarkable place: a supermarket where everything is free.
This unique food bank, called the Social Supermarket, is run by Wellington City Mission, a faith-centered organization that was founded in 1904 to respond to the needs of the community. Although Wellington City Mission is a faith-led organization, they state that their aim is not to evangelize, but rather to build a caring community.
The idea behind the Social Supermarket is to provide food support to the community while giving people the opportunity to choose the food they like and know what to do with it. The Social Supermarket will eventually be part of Wellington’s larger transformational community hub that is yet to be completed.
To shop here, people simply come to the organization, declare who they are and what their situation is, after which they make an appointment to come shop. Instead of prices, items are assigned value through a five-point system, one point being the least expensive goods and five points representing items that are worth more than (NZ) $10.
The number of points allotted to a person depends on their circumstances. For instance, a single adult would get around 55 points, while a family would receive significantly more. This way, people aren’t just handed a package of pre-selected food but can choose what they want and learn how to shop within a budget. There is even a “specials” bin that is full of items that, when “purchased,” do not count toward your points total.
The supermarket already has 3000 product lines and stocks everything you would find in a regular market, other than alcohol and tobacco. They get support from a supermarket chain, but always welcome donations, especially specialty items like gluten-free products.
One New Zealand supermarket chain supported the Social Supermarket by helping design the area with shelving, aisles, refrigeration units, vegetable racks, and a variety of displays. The building is even fitted out with a checkout counter, baskets and carts, and anything else you’d expect to find in a “normal” grocery store.
Wellington City Mission hopes that the Social Supermarket will be a space that generates critical conversations about the cost of living and the impact of income on food security. In addition to food, the organization also offers other support services such as budgeting advice, social work support, parenting resources, and more.