Most people in this country never think much about grocery stores.
We go there when we need food or other items we feel are essential or desired for living.
Most of us have our "favorite" grocery store, indicating that we have choices about where to shop.
I expect a number of factors enter into determining our "favorite" store. You know, things like hours of operation, location, quality, cleanliness, price, inventory selection, brand, etc.
Grocery stores become a part of our normal routine each week or so. Many of us drop in on our "favorite" store even more frequently.
For millions of Americans what I have just described would seem foreign, unknowable, extremely distant--the stuff of television ads, movies and unfulfilled hopes.
Many, many neighborhoods do not enjoy the presence of even one decent grocery store, to say nothing of several from which to choose.
In February, Tony Proscio of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, published an interesting and important report on the economic and social impact of grocery stores on communities. Entitled Food, Markets, and Healthy Communities: How food stores accelerate local development and enrich residents' lives, the report discusses how food markets can affect low-income neighborhoods and provides several strong case studies that illustrate their significant impact.
The presence of at least one high-quality food market is a critical component to a community’s physical and economic health.
Absent this basic and essential community resource, residents are often forced to travel far, pay more for groceries or settle for what is nearby: fast food restaurants or the low-nutrient, more expensive food prevalent in convenient stores.
People who find it easy to be critical of the dietary habits of low-income individuals and families often don't consider the grocery store vacuum existing in these neighborhoods.
Not only do grocery stores provide jobs and access to basic necessities, they often open the door for additional economic development in low-income neighborhoods.
The number of food stores in poor neighborhoods is one-third lower than in wealthier areas of a city.
Once a grocery store arrives in such a community, it will normally thrive. Research across urban America indicates that inner-city grocery stores outperform their suburban counterparts!
Here's an interesting metric: for each additional grocery store present in any given urban census tract, African American residents consume 32% more fruits and vegetables. Whites consume an additional 11%.
In addition to the benefits to diet and employment, the presence of good grocery stores puts people on the street, boosts the impression of a community's viability and enhances public safety and image.
Most people who have no experience of inner-city neighborhoods have not been aware of the problem of retail food options for the low-income residents of these vital areas.
At Central Dallas Ministries, we have been attempting to bring a major grocery retailer to several of the communities where we are working. It is a struggle, but as with high-quality housing for the poor and formerly homeless, we know that such a development would be a major win-win for everyone involved.
For more information, take a look at: http://www.lisc.org/content/publications/detail/1388.
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