St. Vinnies Supermarket!
Wednesday, 13th July 2005 at 1:07 pm
When the front doors open at “Vinnies Budget Groceries” in Melbourne’s north later in July, the St. Vincent de Paul Society will be banking on the success of this completely volunteer supermarket operation.
In fact the “Vinnies” hope to repeat the fortunes of their hugely successful grocery stores that have been operating in Western Australia for around 20 years!
The welfare organisation largely funds its programs via its well-known Opportunity Shops. But why has it taken so long to open the supermarkets on the East Coast?
Project manager Max Fletcher has had thirty years in the food retailing business working for Safeway and Coles and he says he’s surprised it has taken so long.
Fletcher says in the west it is a total community operation that offers big rewards for not just the customers who buy the groceries but also for the volunteers who run the 16 stores.
He says Melbourne’s Heidelberg West store will be just the first of many more in the network of Vinnies Budget Groceries.
The store will stock all types of groceries, produce (both frozen and fresh), meat, bread, milk and cleaning products and not just the ‘no name’ varieties. Up to 10,000 items on the shelves.
It is designed to be a supermarket for those on pension or health benefit cards and, as it is to be staffed entirely by volunteers, Max Fletcher says the savings will go directly to the customers by lower prices.
Fletcher says that based on the experience in Western Australia customers here can expect to save up to 30% on most grocery lines because their overheads are virtually non existent.
He says the supermarket of course will pay rent and the cost of the food at wholesale prices but it will be run entirely by volunteers. All the food will be sourced through the major Australian supermarket supplier Metcash.
Fletcher stresses that the supermarket is not about to compete with the big supermarket chains. Its operating ours will be four to five hours a day, for three days a week.
He says that the only requirement to being a customer is need and this has no
religious, social or ethnic boundaries.
Many customers will be using the food vouchers they have already obtained from the Society and Fletcher says they will be getting much better value for money due to the low prices. A voucher for $60 will go a lot further at the Vinnies store than at one of the larger chains.
He says this way more people can be helped.
While Max Fletcher has the title of Project Manager he is himself a volunteer using his extensive food industry expertise to bring the supermarket to Victoria. He decided to retire at 55 and at 56 this volunteer project is now all consuming.
He says for the other volunteers there are real skills to be learned as they take part in food handling and Occupational Health and Safety courses, learn customer relations and supermarket operations. The long term unemployed have a chance to experience a new job prospect while having some fun and helping the community.
Local schools and TAFE colleges are expected to use the Supermarket as part of work experience programs for hospitality courses and the like.
Fletcher says the supermarket needs a minimum of 40 volunteers to operate successfully.
Already he has 30 local people on the register and that is without looking to the Society’s regular pool of willing volunteers.
He says in the West several stores have a core volunteer base of 80.
The St Vincent de Paul Society has provided $150,000 to set up the supermarket with a break-even policy.
Max Fletcher says the supermarket will not operate to make money but to assist those in need.
Anyone interested in volunteering can call 03 9895 5800.