Food Desert Regions Use Federal Funds to Bring Healthy Foods to Communities | Food

Communities across the United States are using federal stimulus money to bring groceries and healthy food to food deserts as the pandemic and rising costs put nutrition even further out of reach for many.

Areas using U.S. bailout funds include the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana, a 1,000 square mile stretch shared by the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes. Most of the booking is considered a food desert by the US Department of Agriculture, which means most residents have little access to healthy food.

An Aboriginal-owned business on the reservation plans to renovate and expand the Little River Trading Post, once part of the Kwik Stop chain, in the town of Fort Belknap Agency.

The gas station and convenience store closed briefly after his purchase, then reopened in December selling apples, bananas, potatoes, onions and berries. “Our berries are flying off the shelves,” said Eddie Moore, a business development officer who manages the store for the Island Mountain Development Group, which bought the business last year. It plans to use federal stimulus funds to expand its fresh produce offerings this year.

At least five other communities have offered to use money from the US bailout — the $1.9 billion package approved by Congress in 2021 to help the country recover from the effects of the pandemic — to open or relaunch grocery stores, according to the US Treasury Department. Many other areas explore ways in which funds could alleviate food insecurity.

In Toledo, Ohio, local activists have urged the city to use $1 million in federal infrastructure funds to help attract a grocery store to a low-income neighborhood. A healthier diet would help reduce high obesity, cholesterol and blood pressure problems among Toledo’s black population, said the Reverend Donald Perryman, president of the Toledo advocacy group United Pastors for Social Empowerment.

“When you’ve been an oppressed resident of our country in some of these inner city neighborhoods, you develop habits related to survival,” he said. “Sometimes those habits take root.”

Blacks and Latinos are more likely to live in areas without grocery stores than whites, as well as low-income people.

The grocery store model is broken and federal funding is providing new ways to fix it, said Beverley Wheeler, director of DC Hunger Solutions, which runs nutrition programs in the nation’s capital.

“Our large grocery stores have a business model built on education and revenue,” said Wheeler, who noted that Washington DC plans to use US bailout funds to add smaller grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods this year. “They’re not building them in neighborhoods where we need them.”

It can be difficult for a grocery store to make a profit, even in affluent communities, so getting businesses to stay in lower-income neighborhoods is a challenge, said Connie Max, executive vice president for lending with Local Initiatives Support. Corp, a nonprofit that helps fund community projects. More communities are asking for help attracting or retaining grocers, Max said, with local governments and nonprofit community organizations raising funds rather than waiting for businesses to open stores on their own— same.

“Margins are pretty thin at grocery stores,” she said. “Whenever we can, we try to help them buy the facility to really root them in the community.”

But giving residents access to healthy food may not be as simple as opening a new grocery store.

Toledo officials are trying to figure out what would help the most, especially in neighborhoods that have lost population. Less than half the population shop at grocery stores, said Sandy Spang, the city’s deputy director of economic development, down from 90% in 1988. The city is polling residents to see if new grocery stores would be more useful than, say, food. trucks or other ready meals.

“I think we have to recognize that food distribution is changing,” Spang said. “I don’t think we can contemplate the solutions of 40 years ago. If you’ve lost neighborhood density, you won’t necessarily have feasibility for traditional grocery stores.

In Birmingham, Alabama, which is also looking for ways to use ARP funds for healthier food options, the city paid to renovate an abandoned grocery store but realized it would have to split the building in half to attract a new grocer as businesses tend to prefer smaller stores.

Residents surrounded by convenience stores and dollar stores have been sorely lacking access to fresh foods such as fresh produce, baked goods and seafood, said Carol Clarke, the councilwoman who represents the neighborhood. . “It’s definitely a food desert,” she said.

Other communities also use ARP funds to alleviate food insecurity:

  • The Cherokee Nation hopes to open a grocery store in Marble City, Oklahoma. “It is important to ensure that our Cherokee communities on the reservation have access to healthy foods, especially in our rural areas where resources are limited, including grocery stores,” said Chuck Hoskin Jr. Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

  • Austin, Texas, where 12 of the city’s zip codes lack grocery stores, plans to open at least one pilot store in underserved east Austin.

  • Macon-Bibb County, Georgia spends $1 million on a grocery store in a low-income neighborhood.

Memphis, Tennessee and Washington DC, also plan to open ARP-funded stores, and Charleston, West Virginia, has proposed Miss Ruby’s Corner Market, which would take over the site of a former soda fountain near a resort. of seniors’ housing where residents have difficulty getting to more distant grocery stores.

The nonprofit store will feature local produce and provide nutrition education, said Spencer Moss, executive director of the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, which is helping open the business.

“We don’t need to make a profit,” she says. “We just need to break even.”

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