February 24, 2012; Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
The concept of “food deserts”—those communities that lack decent supermarkets with a range of quality foods and fresh produce—should be well known to nonprofits around the nation. Chester, Penn. is such a community. It hasn’t had a supermarket for over a decade, leading to its designation as a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In fact, the USDA has a food desert locator on its website identifying places of high population concentrations far from grocery stores. The USDA defines food deserts as urban areas more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store and rural areas more than ten miles away. The results of this definition are 6,529 food-desert census tracts in the U.S. (not including Alaska and Hawaii), 75 percent of which are in urban areas much like Chester.
Sign up for our free newsletter
Subscribe to the NPQ to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.
Some nonprofits have partnered with for-profit supermarket chains to bring groceries into urban food deserts. The Abyssinian Baptist Development Corporation brought a Pathmark grocery store to Harlem and New Community Corporation brought one to Newark, N.J.
In Chester, the plan to establish a new grocery is nonprofit from start to finish. The nonprofit emergency food aid group Philabundance has purchased a vacant building that hosted the last supermarket in the city before it closed in 2001. Philabundance plans to open a 13,000 square foot “Fare and Square” grocery there in about a year’s time.
The president of Philabundance, Bill Clark, believes it will be the first nonprofit supermarket developed and operated by a food aid group. The project is anticipated to cost about $4.5 million, toward which the nonprofit has raised $2.2 million in government and private revenues. The biggest of the contributions was a $1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
This is a project worth watching as a potential model not just for addressing food deserts, but for moving nonprofit emergency food programs into serving entire communities.—Rick Cohen