In only one year since its launch, the Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund (CO4F) has received more than 40 first-stage applications from grocers seeking financial assistance to provide healthy food options to consumers.
Applications span a wide variety of projects in rural and urban communities, including new store openings, expansions, renovations, store retention and innovative healthy food retail concepts. The consistent theme is that all are looking for ways to expand fresh food retail.
CO4F is a statewide fund and the first of its kind in Colorado. It was developed to increase access to fresh and healthy foods in underserved communities by helping large- and small-scale grocers overcome financial barriers through favorable loan terms and grants. The funding is available for use across Colorado, including, but not limited to, those classified by the USDA as “food deserts.”
“This is an exciting resource,” said Mary Lou Chapman, CO4F board member and president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association (RMFIA). “The Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund is designed to help grocers open and improve their stores in today’s competitive environment.”
In addition to improving retail access to fresh and healthy foods, CO4F encourages economic development in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.
Chapman serves on the CO4F advisory board and loan committee. She told The Shelby Report that she has repeatedly stressed the need to help grow underserved areas outside of Denver and into the rural areas of the state.
“I am pretty excited about the potential assistance that the fund can provide to those who take the time to go through the qualification process,” Chapman said. “By financing healthy food retail, the fund aims to improve healthy food access throughout Colorado. The fund can offer loans and grants to help retail food businesses in various ways. Some suggested projects are to build new stores or innovative fresh food businesses, upgrade product selection at existing stores, keep existing stores open or add equipment that can help keep produce fresh.”
“Without supermarkets and other fresh food retailers, communities are missing key components of healthy living and economic growth,” said Kelly Dunkin, VP of philanthropy for the Colorado Health Foundation.
CO4F was modeled after best practices used in other fresh food financing initiatives across the nation. The fund was seeded with a $7.1 million investment from the Colorado Health Foundation in 2013, and has since received additional funding from Kaiser Permanente, Piton Foundation and Colorado Trust. The fund now totals nearly $10 million.
The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) serves as the fund administrator managing loan and grant allocations. Progressive Urban Management Associates (PUMA) is the Food Access Organization. PUMA markets the fund and provides technical assistance to applicants.
“If we are judicious in our efforts to utilize the fund for assisting projects that have the potential to provide the greatest impact to areas in need, I believe it can help us close some of the gaps in food access around our state,” Chapman said.
Chapman said Colorado grocers who feel they might benefit from this fund can contact her directly ([email protected], 303-478-8587 or 303-830-7001) so that she can assist in their efforts.
Retailers also can learn more about CO4F eligibility and the application process at chfainfo.com/CO4F.