Indianapolis city-council proposal addresses food insecurity

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- On Wednesday night, the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee unanimously approved Proposal 258. If passed, it would allocate $580,000 to address food insecurity in the county.

This proposal would set aside $140,000 for a partnership with Lyft to provide subsidized ride shares to grocery stores for families on the city's far east side.

It also would create a mobile food market ($200,000), a Food Champions Program ($65,000) to help neighborhoods develop food programs and an app ($175,000) for residents to find grocery stores near them.

Getting groceries is not easy for many residents on the city's far east side. Donnica Gray said her trip to the store by bus takes more than an hour.

"It is frustrating," she said.

There was a Kroger closer to her home but it closed.

"When this was here, it was a blessing to the neighborhood," said Gray.

Gray lives in a food desert. It is one of the largest in the city according to this study by The Polis Center at IUPUI. Their report found roughly 200,000 residents in Indianapolis live in food deserts.

The Polis Center said other large food deserts are located on the city's near northwest and northeast areas, southwest and southeast areas and far east side.

"We need to continue looking at improving access to food as well as alleviating food insecurity," said Paul Babcock, Director of the Office of Public Health and Safety.

Babcock's department is requesting this appropriation of $580,000. Mayor Hogsett first announced this program in his State of the City address.

Since the proposal passed committee, it will now go before the full council on July 15 for final passage.

"We are trying to provide individuals in our most neediest areas access to those stores," he said.

Not everyone on the city's far east side was on board with the ideas. Robert Heart is the owner of A&I Variety Meats & Produce. He opened his market about 5 months ago. It is in the same shopping center where he said a Kroger used to be.

"You are sending people to a grocery store that has already left this area that caused the food desert," he said. "You would rather pump more money into that store than to help the community store that is here."

A city spokesperson sent us the following statement to respond to those concerns.

In order to tackle a problem as complex as hunger and food access, the City must leverage every tool in our toolbox to ensure residents' basic needs are being met. Over the last three years, the City has helped to launch and support a variety of new, neighborhood-based options for groceries – from partnering with Flanner House to launch a co-op on the westside, to working with the Indiana Black Farmers’ Market to bring fresh, affordable produce to an eastside community following the loss of their neighborhood grocery store. Creating targeted pilot programs like the Lyft Project that address immediate barriers faced by our neighbors is just one of many strategies the City has deployed in response to this critical issue.

In the meantime, Gray said she looks forward to a quicker and easier trip to get healthy food.

"You have to get food in the house. You have to take care of family," she said.

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