We created our first points-based free shop in a refugee camp in Greece in 2016 and we’ve set one up in every place we’ve worked because we think they are the most dignified way to distribute essentials.
How does the Dignity Market work
People are invited to register for the shop and issued with a shopping card that has their Dignity Centre membership number and the expiry date for using the shop.
The shopping card is only valid for one day a week to make sure we have even numbers of customers on each day. We have a different colour card for each day to help with managing eligibility.
Every item in the shop is priced with a number of points where €1 = 100 points and we give every adult 840 points to spend each week (every child has 420).
They choose what they want and every purchase is recorded on the Loyverse app which is free to use for some great functionality. It allows us to track what we are selling and analyse all the data from the shopping.
Why do we use a points based shop?
Everyone who has worked in one of our points-based shops knows the benefits of points based food distribution because they are so evident.
It’s dignified, offers choice and allows for a little normality. The food is critical and it helps but what we are really doing is feeding spirits.
It’s a world away from just giving people a bag of food.
Fundamentally, people are given choices and they get agency. We’ve given out pre-prepared bags of food to people and it led to a lot of arguments because everyone is an individual. They wanted to choose what went in the bag. And no-one wants to feel like they are surviving on charity handouts.
The benefits flow from that. And they are benefits that are particularly important to people who have lost their homes and at the mercy of uncaring bureaucracies.
There is more chat when families and friends shop together while they decide what to buy. This looks and feels just like normality.
People are happier and also chat more to volunteers. They’re not there just to pick up some supplies. They appreciate the efforts to make the shop look like the best shop it can be. It’s community.
Presenting choice in a beautiful, welcoming shop environment makes the relationship between volunteer and customer more equal. Instead of having to accept whatever they are being given, customers choose and volunteers are there to serve.
Everything is bought new from local businesses.
This is of course much more costly than running a shop based on donations but has some really strong advantages:
- It is important to invest in the local economy and use that to challenge objections from local people about having refugees and asylum seekers in their community
- Donated food is often inappropriate and it’s impossible to accurately ‘price’ items with points. It also leads to a lot of waste
- People find consistency reassuring and it reduces arguments
- It looks like a shop
It also makes it very clear where your money goes – €8.40 provides an individual with an essential basket of goods for one week.