It’s a supermarket, but every product in it is free.
Fris opens its doors in Amsterdam Nieuw-West. The supermarket is a crowdfunding initiative set up by Studiezalen, a foundation that runs study rooms for children from low-income households in Amsterdam and Zaandam.
The idea behind Fris is that it is a one-stop shop for members of the community, especially those who struggle with poverty to seek help. Aside from the supermarket, Fris also provides other kinds of help, such as job-seeking and life coaching opportunities to members of low-income families to get them to be financially independent.
Programme manager at Studiezalen, Eva Schouten, told the Groningen Observer that Fris is different from other existing free food programmes and food banks.
She said, “We make it into a real supermarket experience. So when someone comes to our supermarket, they can pick their own groceries and come as often as they need to.” She then added, “We’re doing this to give people choice and dignity.”
Schouten explains that the people eligible to ‘shop’ at Fris are the families who receive help from Studiezalen. Currently, they support 1,400 children and their families. The first year Fris will offer support to 80 of those families.
She said, “We understand that the demand is much higher, so we wouldn’t send people outside of our community that come our way (to Fris) empty-handed. We operate on a trust basis. So if you come to Fris looking for help, we will provide it for you.”
Considering that all the groceries in the supermarket are free, Fris relies on donations and partnerships for their day-to-day operations. Schouten stated that for Fris, Studiezalen raised 250,000 euros from 402 donors and built partnerships with 13 partners, including Vomar supermarket and Naif skincare.
“For example, with Vomar, they provide us with long shelf-life products, and Naif provides us with baby products.” explained Schouten.
Support from local government
Amsterdam mayor, Femke Halsema said that Fris would help poor families in Amsterdam feel less embarrassed to seek aid, describing Fris and Studiezalen as “a revolution.”
She told Dutch News that the Netherlands have a habit of humiliating poor people, saying that “People have to prove that they are poor if they want to be considered for assistance, they actually have to show they couldn’t do anything about it, and so we pile humiliation on top of the misfortune of poverty.”
That same article notes that Amsterdam economic affairs chief, Sofyan Mbarki is also on board with the opening of Fris. He hoped that more businesses would think of what they could do for the less fortunate.
Rising food prices
Fris was built to help low-income families get out of poverty, especially in the middle of soaring inflation and high food prices.
Schouten said, “The idea (of Fris) came from what we see in our study halls. In order to help the students in our community, we have to help their families as well. Because if they have stress at home because they can’t afford food, then it would be really hard to focus on their studies.”
The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics released a flash estimate on Wednesday, indicating that the annual rate of inflation stood at 7.6% in January 2023. This means that the prices of consumer products in January have increased on average 7.6% from January of the previous year.
Food and beverages were slightly more expensive, with prices up 14.5% by year on year (yoy), compared to the 14% rise in December 2022.
Fris in Dutch, translates to “fresh” in English. It represents a fresh start for the community.
“It is the aim to achieve in this project, a fresh start for the people coming to our supermarket. We want the people that we help to be independent from poverty,” said Schouten.