When Elena Salinas moved from Aurora to Colorado Springs in 2016, she became a stay-at-home mom — and faced some unexpected realities.
“With that comes a lot of anxiety and a lot of pressure,” Salinas recalled. “One of those struggles is feeding your family.”
As she settled in the Springs, she began relying on her local food bank at Deerfield Hills Community Center, where she was surprised at the limited availability of fresh food.
“I’m thankful for the food banks and the times they are there, but they can’t be there every Tuesday with fresh eggs and they can’t be there every day with bread. It’s very hit and miss,” she said. “During all of this I thought, ‘I want to be that constant supply of fresh food for my neighborhood.’ I felt like we needed it.”
Salinas credits her mother with planting in her a seed for service, which motivated her to improve the supply of food for some of the most needy neighborhoods in Southeast Colorado Springs.
She started by surveying her neighbors, asking a simple question: What are the five things you shop for every week? Four answers came back again and again: eggs, bread, milk and fresh produce.
About a year later — in 2020 — Salinas started A Fresh Move Grocery Store to bring fresh food to the area. She pops up in neighborhoods with fresh groceries and offers an online service.
“I started with some fresh produce, bread and eggs,” she said. “Today, we’ve partnered with multiple Colorado farms, small businesses and food co-ops to bring even more of a variety. Now we have pastas, grains, meat, butter, milk. To see this grow in such a harsh time has been amazing.”
This year Salinas, 33, is looking to expand her reach to include a storefront that will help support her mission. She also plans to hire other women — stay-at-home moms, survivors of domestic violence and retirees.
Salinas spoke with the Business Journal about her vision for a community of women supporting women; a place where women can grow and thrive and heal.
How has A Fresh Move been received in the neighborhoods?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive and so impactful to me. It just motivates me to keep going. I hear personal stories of loss and sickness and all these different things that life throws at us. It keeps me going.
Why do you choose to focus on staples at A Fresh Move?
The staples are what hold you together. The staples are your eggs, your bread, your fresh produce. When I think about my fresh produce, I think about potatoes, onions, carrots. Every food that I bring is carefully thought of — what they can cook with or what they are cooking with and what has multiple uses. Like potatoes, I love potatoes. You can do so many things with potatoes, it’s crazy. Any meal of the day — you can make hash browns for breakfast, a baked potato for dinner and french fries for lunch. I even make potato tacos. It’s just like, ‘Thank you, Lord, for potatoes.’
When you started, how did you go about finding farms and co-ops to partner with?
It was one of those things where I had to just put myself out there and tell my story: ‘This is who I am, this is what I’m doing, are you willing to help out and be a part of this?’ Some people really shut the door on me and said, ‘I don’t want to work with people like you.’ When I look back on that journey of trying to gather my resources, doors opened up that were supposed to open up. The people that closed the doors on me really actually opened up other greater doors for us to bring better food, fresher food. I’m working now with people who are family-oriented, community-oriented business owners — and those are the people that I want to work with. So I was thankful when those other doors closed. Those people who said they didn’t want to work with me, I thought, ‘Well good, because I don’t want to work with you.’ Their mindset wasn’t going to fit my mission and my goals and that’s OK because other doors opened.
How does A Fresh Move work?
We began with the pop-ups. We began with two tents, four tables and secondhand displays. Things that just make people feel good about shopping. We make sure to pop up with the fresh farm and modern vibe. We began as a pop-up, but then Colorado’s unpredictable weather really took a toll and made me think. It was hard. I bring my kids a lot. To bring them out in 30-degree weather and when we’re working out of my van, I can’t really do what I need to do. So Colorado’s unpredictable weather has been a huge obstacle for us.
With that being said, we went ahead and launched an online delivery program. Our mission is to fight for fresh food access. It was also to fill that gap in time when I can’t be there in the neighborhood due to rotation schedules or weather changes. So that’s what the online delivery program is for. It’s also only set for 80916, 80911, 80817. I focus on the neighborhoods that need it and these are the three south ZIP codes.
Right now to support the online grocery store and to support the pop-ups, we have decided to pursue a small storefront this year. Because I buy in bulk, as the food comes in for the online grocery store and the pop-ups, we also need to have another way to put food out. You can’t just have one way to put food out, especially when you’re buying so much at a time.
Talk a bit more about pursuing the storefront.
We’re really interested in Mission Trace Shopping Center. We’ve been talking to Matt Craddock about it. It resolves so many issues. For one, the weather. If we can’t pop up, at least we’ll still have a grocery store running so if you can make it, it’s available. It’s that solid backup for these two outlets of food going out. Also, the food storage. I live in a two-bedroom home and I have two kids; they share a room and we have a puppy. Our house is full and it’s not so big, so to work from my house has been wild. Some days it looks like the inside of my house is a grocery store. We’ve also invested in buying extra refrigerators to make sure we’re storing all the food properly, of course. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got, especially when you’re building from scratch. I appreciate everyone’s patience with this because it is being built from scratch. I work with what I can. I’m hoping in 2021, with this storefront, that not only will it be a solid, consistent supply of food but our work environment is designed for stay-at-home moms, domestic violence survivors and retired women. It’s going to be a place where we encourage healing, invite entrepreneurship and we support women. Women supporting women by plugging them into a strong network where they can thrive.
Where did you get the motivation and inspiration for focusing on women?
It comes a lot from my own experiences. I’m a stay-at-home mom. I can’t dedicate myself to an 8-to-5 job. As far as the domestic violence survivors, I went through something in 2009 that really changed my life and the way I felt about taking control of your own life. I didn’t have a supportive, healing environment. I never had that. So I feel like if we specifically have these women who can empower other women through their own pain and through their own journey of healing, I want to create a space just for that.
Tell us a little about yourself outside of work — your kids and your hobbies.
I have two children, a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old. As far as hobbies, I do a lot of drawing. I like to make things. I’m always painting signs. Everything for the grocery store has been pretty much handmade. I’ll get a pallet and I’ll start painting it or I’ll break it apart and build a fence or something. We had a pumpkin patch back in October. It was so cool. We created a pumpkin patch forest. I had to go all around town and look for Christmas trees. I gathered about 20 different Christmas trees of all different sizes and I put them in our parking lot. We put pumpkins all around, and I had a photo booth. I’m always thinking about moms and you know moms always want to catch that photo. I went to my backyard and I went through this pile of wood and I started building little fences.
I also definitely am one who has to pray. I have to pray and I have to spend time with God in the mornings to re-center and make sure I’m going out into the world or even just into my own home with grace for myself. I think as a woman and as a business owner, you’re so busy and you have kids. Sometimes I just find myself wondering, ‘Who am I?’ I think we have to show ourselves grace and just think, you’re doing the best you can. You’re making goals. You’re balancing life out. Give yourself a break and show yourself some grace.