NPR reports on an innovative project in Baltimore to bring groceries to neighborhoods without access to a full-service store with fresh fruits and vegetables (called “food deserts”). Residents order online and pick up at the library:
Under a new city program, patrons can order groceries online and pay with cash, credit or food stamps. The orders are filled by Santoni’s supermarket, a longtime Baltimore grocer. They deliver the items to the library the next day.
[…] health department staffers spend a few hours each week helping patrons order their groceries online. One is Jackie Coles, a single mother of three who works as a custodian.
Like most in this neighborhood, she doesn’t own a car.
“The market around here has been closed for a little over a year,” Coles says. “And you have to go so far to get to another market. You know, you have to pay somebody to take you. Or it’s a long walk.”
But Coles is now a regular at the library. She gets books, plus easy access to healthier food options.
“Fruit is fresh. The vegetables are fresh. I get the butchered meat and all. It’s really good,” she says.
I don’t want to claim any credit whatsoever for this initiative, but I will say that a couple years ago I thought of using Tulsa’s local grocers (who have online ordering and delivery) to get groceries to our food deserts. We studied the feasibility and complications – the online systems don’t accept food stamps or WIC, they may not deliver to North Tulsa, people might not have access to the internet, perhaps deliveries could be made to CAP early childhood centers, etc. So I’m really happy to see that Baltimore figured it out using their library system – why didn’t Diama think of that?
Diama, a librarian by trade, did however come up with an idea of fusing a library service (the bookmobile) with access to fresh produce. On this blog, we featured a story on New York City incentivizing food stand merchants to offer fresh fruits and vegetables and Diama expanded this into an idea to create a mobile “food mobile” (much like libray bookmobiles) to roam around offering groceries:
Tulsa does not have areas of high-walking density (quite the opposite) – but we do have a propensity towards traveling prepared food and a really excellent library bookmobile system. [… ]Actually, we may be on to something. Would it be so ludicrous to come up with a food mobile that stopped in certain areas of the City (low-income and/or food deserts) and sold fresh fruits and vegetables and maybe some dairy if refrigeration were available? Local grocery stores (i.e. Reasor’s) could invest in these types of trucks with their name on the side and volunteers could drive the trucks into selected neighborhoods on certain days of the week.
The food desert concept has been drawing attention in cities across the U.S. in recent years. Each city has been trying its own creative solutions. Sections of northern Tulsa, particularly, lacked a grocery store for several years after Albertson’s closed, as did the Eugene Field neighborhood for many years. Lots of creative thinking has gone into how to address the dilemma. As mentioned previously on this blog, the residents of Eugene Field helped start a small grocery called the Harvest Market. City leaders, economic development officials, and a local entrepreneur collaborated to reopen the former Albertston’s, at Pine & Peoria, as Gateway Market. (It needs your support to succeed, so be sure to visit.) And farmer’s markets all around Tulsa (including North and West), which have been sprouting up quicker than the produce they sell, have begun accepting food stamps through the use of “market tokens.”
The issue continues to draw CAP’s attention as well. Innovation Lab staff recently worked with the early childhood program to find out what our families do about food and nutrition for their children during the summer. While most were satisfied with their arrangements, we found that awareness of summer food programs was very low and that one-third report that their children occasionally get too little food during the summer.
What are some other creative ways to make sure all Tulsa families are getting access to nutritious food and meals throughout the year?
[Finally, since I linked to an NPR story, I feel it is my duty to remind you that today is the last day of spring Pledge Week for public radio, and our local station needs your support. If you listen to public radio and haven’t yet made your pledge, do so now at www.publicradiotulsa.org or 631-3689.]
Image used under a Creative Commons license from flickr user -Kj.