Thursday 09 February 2023

A fresh approach: free supermarket offers poorer families help and dignity

Abdelhamid Idrissi, founder of Fris Photo: S Boztas

The shelves are stocked, the coffee machine primed and an enthusiastic team is ready to help customers. There’s one difference at this new supermarket in Amsterdam Nieuw-West: everything is free.

Fris, which opened on Tuesday night, is a crowd-funded initiative set up by Stichting Studiezalen, which runs homework classes for students in Amsterdam and Zaandam.

The idea is that, instead of a food bank or hand out, a free supermarket with other services attached can help families in poverty – and help families to get out of poverty.

‘Poverty exists, but we can’t look away,’ said Abdelhamid Idrissi, founder of Stichting Studiezalen and a hogeschool professor of practice in diversity and inclusion. ‘I want to offer families families full shelves, bread every day, and every basic that they need – as well as a lot of moments of contact. The key is trust.’

The bright building in Nieuw-West has a mezzanine floor with a coffee machine and cosy corner where families can also access help with all kinds of issues from debt and job seeking to overcoming addiction. ‘We want to hold these families tight and only let them go when their kids are sleeping soundly again at night,’ said Idrissi.

The initiative, which he said will cost €200,000, has fresh and store cupboard products donated by businesses including supermarket Vomar and baby product maker Naïf. It will support 80 families with food worth €651 a month, enough for a family with three children and a pet.

Dignity

Femke Halsema, mayor of Amsterdam, opened the supermarket and is an enthusiastic supporter. ‘If you are poor, it’s not a question of being guilty – it’s bad luck, it’s an accident, it is grief, circumstances that brought you into poverty,’ she said. ‘But in the Netherlands we have the very bad tendency to humiliate people who are in poverty.

‘People have to prove they are poor if they want to be considered for extras, they actually have to show they couldn’t do anything about it, and so we pile humiliation on top of the misfortune of poverty. Abdelhamid and his people’s supermarket…is a supermarket but it is also a revolution. You get your shopping and, if you want, you can also get help.

‘There is no humiliation, there is dignity, and there is help, and this [message] is far bigger than this small space. It will travel across Amsterdam and hopefully further.’

Fris stocks quality, donated products  Photo: S Boztas

Franchise

Matthijs Jasper, founder of crowdfunding initiative ‘The Happy Activist’, got involved after sharing a video about a social supermarket initiative in New Zealand. He said people fall through the cracks of social security systems and simply need help.

‘In real life, there’s not one organisation that combines all of the money to help people or a clear mission from government to help the vulnerable,’ he said. ‘We have to find other resources. The goal is to franchise this project to establish in other cities and lands, to create a blueprint to give to others.’

Marcella de Muinck, a director specialising in social development for recruiter Olympia, said the business will offer coaching and support to help people get back to work, upstairs in the supermarket. ‘We are working on taking away the barriers,’ she said.

Fresh look

Sofyan Mbarki, Amsterdam economic affairs chief, told Dutch News he hoped more businesses would think what they could do for the less fortunate. ‘This is not about financial benefits, but about benefiting society,’ he said. ‘It is painful that in a rich land like the Netherlands food banks are needed, but this is not just about the basic necessities.

‘It’s about sustainable solutions. I would call for other companies to contribute to our society and think about what they can do for the city.’

Fris, which in Dutch means ‘fresh’, aims to be an inspiration to help families who have fallen on tougher times find their own way again. ‘We want,’ said Idrissi, ‘to look at things afresh.’

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