NORFOLK, Va. - It was a double whammy - the closure of a neighborhood grocery store last June, right in the middle of the pandemic.
"With the closing of Save-A-Lot, as well as the pandemic, this community no longer had access to food, much less healthy fresh food within walking distance," said Leah, Gottlieb, co-founder of the St. Paul's Community Development Corporation.
Food on which communities like Tidewater Gardens, Young Terrance and Calvert Square residents like Jalin Wesby depended.
"[The closure of the] Save-A-Lot affected a lot of families. We are all on food stamps out here - now we have to find another way to get food," said Wesby.
Four thousand and two hundred residents in these communities now sit in a food desert.
"With food deserts - usually in undeserved communities - large box stores come in, but research shows they don't do well," said Gottlieb.
Access to food, though, is on the way.
"We are looking at business development and helping local entrepreneurs with small format stores.
Just in the last two weeks, the St. Paul's Community Development Corporation has received two grants.
Last week, UnitedHealthcare gave the corporation $95,000 to support a food pharmacy program coordinator for the Norfolk Food Ecosystem Project.
Then, $50,000 came last week from the state - a Virginia Food Access Investment Fund (VFAIF) grant that will go to support towards the Norfolk Food Ecosystem. The funding will support a new fresh food market in the St. Paul’s community.
"The food pharmacy will offer fresh fruit, veggies, recipes and more to communities and families to help treat chronic illnesses," said Carla Brice, Food Pharmacy coordinator.
The St. Paul's CDC says says that research shows that without fresh food and healthy food access, residents in these communities are losing 20 years off their life expectancy.
The market and the Food Pharmacy programs are in the implementation stages and are beginning to locate partners to team up with to carry out the vision to help these undeserved communities.