Food bank looks to improve racial disparity in access to food in Norfolk food desert

Posted at 8:50 PM, Jun 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-04 04:50:14-04

NORFOLK, Va.— During a time of increased demand and less resources, the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore is facing another challenge: a new food desert in their own backyard.

With the closure of the Save A Lot on Church St. Saturday, the food bank anticipates they will have to do more to improve the racial disparity in access to healthy foods that has increased since the pandemic.

“There was a pre-existing need and it's just been exacerbated by COVID,” says community outreach manager Zach Nissen.

They say employment, higher education, housing, healthcare and financial literacy are primary causes of food insecurity— all areas where systemic inequalities for African Americans can be identified.

“We have to address racism; we have to address structural issues, institutional issues, because none of this happens in a vacuum,” said Nissen.

The food bank is situated across the street from three different public housing complexes in Norfolk’s St. Paul’s area: Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrace and Calvert Square.

Those neighbors were directly impacted by Save A Lot's closing. The nearest affordable grocery store for many is now two miles away instead of walking distance. The food bank is now working to figure out how to reach potentially more clients who can’t go to their food distribution center to pick up groceries because of social distancing measures.

“We used to do a Friday distribution from our warehouse in person,” said Nissen. “Over 300 households come through our doors. That that stopped basically immediately.”

They are partnering with the Norfolk Redevelopment Housing Authority to distribute food boxes to communities in need, like the St. Paul’s area.

“Our response has kind of shifted to pre-packaged boxes of mostly shelf-stable items— fresh produce if we have it to sort of supplement those. They are kits that ideally have kid friendly items in there.”

They anticipate increasing the weekly drop-off of food boxes and expanding their mobile pantry program to increase access to groceries until there’s a more permanent solution to the food desert.

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