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Koppa's Farwell Foods, like most grocery stores in Milwaukee, accept Quest cards.

Quest cards help local, low-income people


Every month, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly called the Food Stamps Program -- helps more than 10 million households buy groceries.

In Wisconsin, SNAP is called FoodShare Wisconsin, and in Milwaukee, about 148,000 people benefit from it every month.

"Recently, this number has increased greatly," says Sherrie Tussler, the executive director for the Hunger Task Force.

For decades, low-income people paid for their food with a ticket-like tender called "food stamps." Today, the stamps have been replaced with Quest cards, which allow people to swipe a plastic card embossed with the word "Quest" in the same machine used for debit and credit cards.

Quest cards can be used at participating retail food stores, farmers' markets and community organizations. However, the Quest card is an optional form of tender -- like food stamps were -- and therefore, grocery stores are not required by law to accept it.

In Milwaukee, most retail grocery stores accept Quest cards, including Pick 'N Save, Whole Foods, Outpost Natural Foods, Aldi, Trader Joe's and Koppa's Farwell Foods.

Many neighborhood corner stores accept Quest, along with the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC), a program aimed at pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

However, Sendik's grocery stores do not accept Quest cards.

The Balistreri family owns eight of the locations: Elm Grove, Franklin, Germantown, Grafton, Greenfield, Mequon, Wauwatosa and Whitefish Bay. Chris Sargent, Sendik's director of marketing and pricing, says they are working on making Quest cards an accepted form of payment, but he has no idea when it will happen.

"There's some technical stuff required to accept (Quest cards)," he says. "Our IT guy is working on it."

John and Anne Nehring own the Sendik's in Shorewood, along with Brookfield's V. Richard's and G. Groppi Food Market in Bay View. Quest cards are not accepted at any of these stores, either.

The Nehrings did not respond to OnMilwaukee.com's phone calls.

"I think that all grocery stores in a state where food share assistance is provided should have to accept Quest and should have all their clerks trained how to use it," says Stacy, who receives aid from the FoodShare program and asked that her last name not be used.

Pete Schmidt, co-owner of Koppa's, says he processes $25-$75 in Quest purchases every day and has never had any problems with the cards.

In order for a family of four to receive FoodShare benefits, they must net less than $2,238 per month. That's a net annual income of less thna $27,000.

Quest cards can be used to purchase fruit, vegetables, grains, meats, fish, poultry, dairy and plants or seeds that will grow into food. They cannot be used to buy non-food items, including medicine, pet food, toiletries, hot or prepared food (basically any food that can be consumed in the store) or household products.

"Sometimes people use it to buy chips and soda, but most of the time I see people buying chicken, potatoes, bread," says Schmidt.

SNAP helps mostly women (59 percent) and children (52 percent), and 35 percent of the families who receive benefits have at least one person working. Most of the time, people who qualify for assistance have low-paying jobs, receive welfare, are elderly or disabled, are students or are homeless.

Stacy and her family qualified for FoodShare benefits after she started a business a few years ago.

"I am not ashamed to need food share assistance because it helps me get by while starting my own business which in turn is about to create two full-time jobs for people in my community," says Stacy. "I believe there are many 'what comes around goes around' stories of families that need Quest and will in turn give back to their community in some way because they were allowed to continue to nourish themselves during hard times."

Stacy says her only complaint about the program is that sometimes store clerks are not trained to understand the FoodShare program, which causes embarrassment at the register.

A few months ago, Stacy tried use her Quest card at the Sendik's on Downer Avenue and the checker had never seen one before, so he asked another clerk if they accepted Quest. The second clerk replied, "Nope."

"I was embarrassed," says Stacy. "The grocery store should at least tell each clerk that if someone tries to use Quest, politely and discretely inform them that it isn't available at that store."

Stacy says she's happy that the Outpost accepts Quest cards, but many of the clerks do not know how to process it. Although the manager is always informed about the program and shows the checker how to process a Quest payment, she tells the clerk to press the "food stamps" key on the register.

"Sometimes she says 'food stamps' quite loudly and that is a little embarrassing," says Stacy. "The button on their debit machine must still say 'food stamps.'"

For anyone in need of food assistance, Tussler suggests they apply for FoodShare benefits via the Web either from their home or the library because it takes less time.

"This isn't the '80s. People don't have to wait in long lines in a 'bad' neighborhood anymore," says Tussler. "You can even take an online 'test' to see if you qualify."


Talkbacks

scareez | April 28, 2011 at 2:24 p.m. (report)

I would also like to chime in & say that before I was finally approved for a Quest card because of health problems & other major monitary setbacks, my boyfriend & I would search the ALDI dumpster for produce & other edible things that we could find, & we weren't the only ones!!! In fact, we still do, even WITH the Quest card, because, most of it's still good, and my boyfriend & I think it's a waste & a damn shame when people are starving all over the place, people would not believe the amount of food that gets tossed every single day, due to semi-damaged containers, lack of shelf space or just out of date (barely). I was embarrased at first watching my boyfriend practically jump in the dumpster, but after sitting in the parking lot for a few hours 1 or 2 times, we saw young people on bikes, old couples with dogs they brought with to run them while they rummaged through the dumpster, to people with really nice vehicles!! All of them doing the same thing we are doing. Heck a lot of times I come home with 4 or 5 bouqets of flowers or roses! I am no longer embarrased to need help in these terrible economic times & have never gotten sick after eaten from the ALDI dumpster (thank-GOD) but, I hope people open their eyes to how desperate people take desperate measures (just to eat, day to day!!)

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lifeispeachy | Sept. 23, 2009 at 2:22 p.m. (report)

I'm not sure if that number is exactly right. According to Hunger Task Force in 2008, the average monthly participants in FoodShare in Milwaukee COUNTY was 157,000.

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iknowbetter | May 8, 2009 at 4:11 p.m. (report)

as a former department manager of one of the aforementioned grocers, i would like to say that it isn't a computer glitch that keeps Quest users from using their cards at these stores--it is the fact that there is an underlying ignorance and racism in this "family" business that keeps recipients of foodstamps and wic out of their stores...i had this said to me first hand, many times, as four or five of us watched every black person in the liquor department for fear of theft...

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rlaskey | Jan. 9, 2009 at 11:09 a.m. (report)

This is in response to the person that said they like the stigma of the Quest card I have a Quest card. I do not have a choice as to whether I use the card or not. I would not be able to eat without it so it is not like I chose to accept state money. I lost my job and now have no way to pay for anything. I was about to be homeless but Iwas able to receive some funds to help me to have a place to live. I do not like using the card and understand why I am forced to do so and that is hard enough already let alone having shoppers watch me use the card at the chekout. We Quest card users should not have to be subjected to any stigma that goes along with it. We need to eat. We have not done anything wrong. We just can not provide for ourselves in theese hard economic times.

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maestramars | Nov. 20, 2008 at 9:48 a.m. (report)

I had a horrible experience at the Brookfield Towne Center Sendiks. I was there shopping and forgot my wallet at home next to the computer(shopping online) so I tried to pay with a check. My total was about $30 and the cashier asked if it was OK for me to pay without ID (my license # and phone etc. were all on the check). I offered my YMCA card because it has my photo and name. The manager came out asked where I lived, and when I said, "Milwaukee" she gruffly said "sorry" and then told me that the "numbers might be wrong" on my check. I left with my 3 & 5 year olds crying because they didn't get their doughnuts. To make matters worse, on the way out we ran into a friend who agreed to spot me the cash. We walked back in no less than 2 minutes later and they said "sorry, we threw away your food for health code reasons". I understand that, but if you think about it, they THREW IT AWAY instead of taking a gamble on me. This, in combination with the article, makes me think Sendiks is only catering to the more affluent people in MKE. They weren't even willing to take a gamble on a $30 check from a mom with 2 kids. If I were black I wouldn't even try to shop there, they probably wouldn't even take your cash.

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