COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – The City of Columbia is investing $300,000 to fill gaps in areas of food insecurity, where access to fresh, healthy food is scarce.
The city council approved the funding which comes from federal American Rescue Plan Act money, at its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
“It’s a long time coming,” District 1 Councilwoman Tina Herbert, who pushed for the funding, said. “They first mentioned this proposal when I left the city in 2017 and so I was surprised to see in 2022 that it hadn’t gotten any financial support.”
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control details several food deserts in Columbia, including parts of North Columbia, the Farrow Road corridor, and the Beltline Boulevard corridor.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a low-income area without a grocery store within a one-mile radius.
Danya Pugh, a North Columbia mother of two, lives in one such area. She has no car, and the nearest grocery store is two miles away.
“To walk to the grocery store, it’s all the way down Two Notch Road or all the way on North Main so that’s going to be, you can’t walk back with all of those groceries,” she said. “And the only fast food restaurants we have is McDonald’s and Burger King so that’s more convenient for us to just get McDonald’s or Burger King because you could walk there, it’s simple.”
Several grocery stores have closed in the area in recent years, including most recently the Save-A-Lot on Harden Street.
“Once that shut down, it actually put a toll on us out here,” Pugh said.
City leaders say one possibility is using the funds to set up a mobile food market, which is essentially a grocery store on wheels that can easily reach communities of need, where produce and fresh foods are hard to find.
“That is of course our short-term goal,” Herbert said. “Long term we have to build density. We have to become more competitive for the grocery stores.”
Your Dollar Sto’ on Farrow Road aims to fill food gaps in low-food access areas.
Herbert said places like the Your Dollar Sto’, which opened in 2021, are a great resource for the community, with their fresh produce and low prices. She said the city’s efforts would supplement the resources that this community grocery store provides.
“If you’re someone further down North Main Street and you don’t have transportation, I don’t know if going to the Dollar Sto’ on Farrow Road is really convenient for you.”
Herbert would like to see Columbia offer small food stores at various corners of the city.
Brian Thomas, owner of Your Dollar Sto’ commends the city’s investment to grapple with food insecurity.
“The city is definitely making a huge effort to push that and to promote healthy eating, nutritional eating,” he said. “We have to start somewhere and so we’re going to start by putting the resources in those communities to have everyone to have access, whether you walk to it, drive to it. But to have that resource in the community is valuable.”
Without a grocery store nearby, Pugh said she often resorts to fast food for her children because it’s convenient.
She purchases some food through the Walmart delivery app and Uber Eats, which can come with expensive delivery fees.
Pugh said a mobile market would do wonders for her family.
“They could speed it up just a little bit for us, just a little bit because like my son is in school now, and he’s a picky, picky eater,” she said. “So most of the time he’s taking like a fruit salad or just some chicken nuggets to school, and this would give me more variety.”
Regina Williams, president of the Booker Washington Heights Neighborhood Association, said she believes this is a worthwhile investment from the city, but she also believes Your Dollar Sto’ should be receiving more assistance from the city to expand its efforts to address food insecurity.
Beginning in late December, the city is expected to begin a procurement process for the $300,000 during which small businesses and non-profits can submit proposals.
Herbert expects a mobile food market, or something similar could arrive in Columbia before the end of next year.
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