Maybe. The fact is, millions of Americans live in what the USDA defines as a food desert: a low-income census tract whose residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. (To see where the closest food desert is to your home, check the USDA’s interactive map here.)
Nutrition has been a core element of The Junior League’s Mission going all the way back to Mary Harriman and her work with poor immigrant families in New York City 110 years ago. The Kids in the Kitchen program is AJLI’s signature program on fighting childhood obesity, of course, but individual Leagues are finding a wide array of ways to tackle nutrition issues, from educational programs to providing needy children with backpacks full of healthy food to bring home for weekends and vacations.
The Junior League of Greater Orlando is tackling the problem from a wider perspective that has the potential to create “lasting community impact” across all of Florida, the 4th largest state in population and one of the most densely populated. The hoped-for solution: bring investment in fresh-food retailing into Florida’s poorest neighborhoods.
Although the state is the source of much of the nation’s fresh fruit and vegetables, says JLGO member Katherine Martin, “There is a great need in Florida to bring healthy food into food deserts here. I have worked in low-income communities where children did not know what a red pepper looks like and had never tasted yogurt. Just having access to healthy food in schools is not enough.”
Food insecurity is a problem in JLGO’s core community – Orlando and surrounding Orange County have nearly 44,000 people who live in food insecure homes, with more than a quarter of them children – but also Florida as a whole. The League says that 17.5% of children there live in food insecure homes and that more than 27.5% of all Floridians are food insecure.
So JLGO went for a solution (or at least the start of one) that addresses the problem from a statewide perspective rather than just an Orlando perspective.
To that end, JLGO worked with Senator Gary Siplin, who introduced Senate Bill 852 in the Florida Senate. The bill provides critical one-time grant and loan financing to help fresh food retailers overcome the higher initial barriers into underserved, low-income communities, and also supports renovation and expansion of existing stores so they can provide the healthy foods that communities want and need. A major first step in its ultimate passage came in January with the unanimous approval of the bill by the Senate Agriculture Committee, sending it to the Senate Budget Subcommittee on General Government Appropriations.
Recently language from Senate Bill 852 was also adopted by Senator Ronda Storms who amended her Senate Bill 1658 to include the Healthy Food Retail Act which hopes to increase chances of the bill passing out of the Senate and into the House. Will Senate Bill 852 ultimately pass and become law? Time will tell. But this initiative is an important part – but by no means the only one – of JLGO’s new core cause: Childhood Health, Hunger and Poverty.