Combating Food Deserts..at the Library!

People go to the library for a variety of reasons: To check out books, do research, gather for meetings, story telling for children, use the Internet and computers, and go grocery shopping.

Wait–grocery shopping?? That may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about a trip to the library, but for some residents in Baltimore, Maryland this is becoming one innovative way to overcome food deserts. The program was initially supported by $60,000 in federal stimulus money, along with a  local grocery store, the four participating libraries, and the Baltimore Health Department.

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative has defined a food desert as “a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store:

  • To qualify as a “low-income community,” a census tract must have either: 1) a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, OR 2) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area’s median family income;
  • To qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles).”

The program has been deemed “Baltimarket” and groceries can be ordered from any computer with Internet access. Then the groceries are delivered to the library nearest to the person who purchased it. There is no sign-up or delivery fee in order to make this program affordable, especially for people who might already have a limited grocery budget. The program also accepts all types of payments for the groceries, including credit, debit, cash, and EBT (food stamps). Another interesting fact is that people do not have to meet any qualifications, such as being elderly, having a disability, or a low income, to participate in the program-it’s open to anyone who is interested!

Public health officials in Baltimore have stated that in addition to people lacking access to food in some of their neighborhoods,  the neighborhoods identified as food deserts had one of the highest mortality rates in the city, with alarmingly high rates of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. And while bringing grocery stores into these neighborhoods would be the best solution, that is not always a possibility. So instead the officials have found a way to take advantage of existing community resources, and provide groceries to four different Baltimore neighborhoods.

The program encourages “healthy” food choices, but the program participants are not limited to only healthy foods. In fact, participants have access to a whole variety of foods available from Santoni’s Super Market, the grocery store that sponsors the program. Participants can even get chilled or frozen foods delivered. The program advertises four easy steps for participants to get groceries:

  1. Come to one of our locations (below) on an ordering day if you would like to place your order at the library or go online at www.santonismarket.com with our “how to order sheet”
  2. Browse sale items in one of our provided Santoni’s sale papers.
  3. Place your order online! (computers and help provided at the library)
  4. Come back on the delivery day to receive your groceries (no delivery fee)!

To check out more on this program, visit their website at: http://baltimarket.org/

I believe this program serves as a strong model of utilizing existing community assets to combat food insecurity and lack of access to food that too many people in our country are facing. What other innovative programs have you heard about?

Resources:

http://baltimarket.org/

http://www.baltimorehealth.org/virtualsupermarket.html

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-03-18/health/bal-md.hs.supermarket18mar18_1_food-deserts-healthful-grocery-stores

http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/fooddesert/about.html#Defined

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