Some solutions are born out of business strategies, nonprofit work, philanthropy or governments getting creative.

From Baltimore to Texas, initiatives have launched that could be replicated in South Jersey’s fight against hunger.

All four counties in The Press of Atlantic City’s coverage area — Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean — have the highest rates in the state of children who lack access to healthy and nutritious foods, both in quality and quantity, according to Feeding America.

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And a lack of healthy food is linked to health problems among children that can haunt them later in life — diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure — from diets reliant on sugary, salty, fatty and processed foods.

“Anything can be very effective depending on the community that carries it out,” said Adele H. LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition. “It’s great to look at what other communities are doing and see if it can be effective in your community.”

Baltimore

Studies by Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health found only about 10 percent of Baltimore’s food stores were supermarkets. Residents turned to corner stores, where food was 20 percent more expensive and basics like whole-wheat bread, low-fat milk and vegetables were often not available, the city wrote in its Baltimore City Food Policy Task Force report in 2009.

One approach from the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative is the Virtual Supermarket Program. It allows residents in public, disabled and senior housing to order groceries online and have them delivered. Residents can pay with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

“Retailers have an understanding that brick and mortar is not the only way to address food insecurity,” said Baltimore City Food Policy Director Holly Freishtat.

In its six-year history, the Virtual Supermarket has served more than 900 unique customers, including 400 in the past year, said Laura Flamm, director of Healthy Eating and Active Living for the Baltimore City Health Department.

The Virtual Supermarket is an initiative of the Baltimore City Health Department in collaboration with community and business partners, including ShopRite. The total cost of the program is $200,000 annually. The delivery cost is shared between ShopRite, which discounts the delivery fee, and the Health Department, which pays the discounted delivery fees via grant funds.

ShopRite brings a wireless EBT/debit/credit card terminal to the delivery sites and accepts payment at the time of purchase, thereby complying with current U.S. Department of Agriculture rules, Flamm said.

“We are honored and humbled to have the opportunity to work with our community partners to bring healthy, affordable food to our neighbors that wouldn’t otherwise have such easy access,” Flamm said.

North Waco and Louisville

A 2014 study highlighted a problem that residents in the low-income North Waco neighborhood in Waco, Texas, saw firsthand for decades.

Corner stores sold skim milk for $1.53 more a gallon than grocery stores in some areas of McLennan County, Texas, according to the Greater Waco Food Environment Study.

Brown rice was twice as expensive at corner stores. Healthy foods, such as yogurt and fresh vegetables, were available only in grocery stores in some areas.

But North Waco has no grocery store — the old Safeway Grocery closed when the neighborhood became blighted in the 1960s — and no business thought it would be profitable to operate one there.

Jimmy Dorrell doesn’t think the Jubilee Food Market will be profitable either, but that’s OK.

Dorrell, the executive director of the nonprofit Mission Waco and a church pastor, helped craft an idea for a nonprofit grocery store that uses paid employees and volunteers to operate.

Dorrell said the store, which is open to anybody, just needs to break even to exist and offer neighborhood grocery-store prices. That’s an option a for-profit business doesn’t have.

And the nonprofit plans to offer low-income neighbors discount cards in the next few months, he said.

The Food Market had a soft opening Nov. 20 after raising more than $640,000 from the neighborhood and more than $217,000 in contractor discounts or in-kind donations to fix up the former Safeway.

“They are coming in, and they are thankful. For the first time, there is no food desert in 30 or 40 years,” Dorrell said.

Since Dorrell is a pastor and not a grocer, he has a team of 11 volunteer advisers and professionals who have planned how to run the store.

In Louisville, Kentucky, a city of more than 600,000, 18 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The national average is 15 percent.

A group in Louisville helps people in poor neighborhoods buy food cheaply, directly from farmers.

A community organization named New Roots launched an innovative program called the Fresh Stop Market that enables people in disadvantaged neighborhoods to pool resources — including food assistance benefits — and buy food directly from local farmers at central gathering places in community centers and churches.

“Understanding that for the next two weeks you can eat all the veggies you want gives security,” said Karyn Moskowitz, New Roots’ founder.

This year, 1,589 families used the program. It also generated about $91,000 in sales for Kentucky farmers.

LaTourette liked Louisville’s farm-to-consumer distribution model.

“It’s getting fresh food to people with fairly limited access to fresh food,” LaTourette said. “It’s a very community-based program. Increasingly, I think, that is the way that we have to look at things.”

Pleasantville

An Atlantic County businessman built a $5 million Pleasantville supermarket to make money, an undertaking that also provided residents on the eastern side of Pleasantville, a city of 20,000, with access to affordable fresh fruits, vegetables and meats.

In 2005, Jose Marin, the owner of La Cosecha in Atlantic City, knew the Spanish and American Pleasantville Grocery on Decatur Avenue was doing well. He calculated he could be successful by establishing a store on South Main Street and offering more produce to residents who didn’t have a car and lived too far away to walk to Sam’s Club on the Black Horse Pike.

“It was small, but you could find anything you needed here,” said Marin, who spoke at the site of the former La Cosecha, which is now Mambo Cafe. “When the store was small, I had to put out a little bit of everything.”

He developed his niche by specializing in the fruits and vegetables sought by people from the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Marin found those with Caribbean or Latin American backgrounds eat a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.

He was successful enough to expand greatly in size and offering by opening the 11,400- square-foot La Cosecha in 2011 and received a $3.3 million loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration. It’s across the street from the original location. He plans to build an addition next year.

On a recent Thursday, Darushka Ortiz, 26, was at La Cosecha with her energetic and talkative 3-year-old riding inside the shopping cart. Ortiz, a Pleasantville resident, bought green and red peppers, cilantro, onions, apples, squash, bananas and fresh meat for her son.

Ortiz, a native of Puerto Rico, said she feeds her son fruits and vegetables every day.

“It’s an essential need for their body, better than buying canned fruit,” Ortiz said.

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Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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