EBR to target food deserts in three areas

The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority on Thursday accepted $100,000 in grant money to help the city-parish bring fresh meat and produce to the corner stores common in Baton Rouge’s poor neighborhoods.

The money, which is part of a $1 million grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, came from the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative.

The initiative is aimed at combating food deserts, or poor areas without access to a full-service grocery store.

The RDA’s plan is to team up with four corner stores in the 70802, 70805 and 70807 ZIP codes to help them accommodate fresh meat and produce. That could range from changing the stores’ layout to buying and installing coolers, said Chip Boyles, vice president of administration and programs.

The RDA will be matching the grant money with its own funds and in-kind services. Helping the stores market their new offerings is within the scope of the project as well.

Boyles said the RDA will work to make sure neighborhood churches and civic groups commit to supporting the stores that step up, and that Pennington Biomedical Research Center, which is part of the overall initiative, will conduct studies to monitor the benefits within the participating communities.

Walter Monsour, the RDA’s president and chief executive officer, told the board that the agreements will contain clauses that require the stores to maintain the changes or forfeit the improvements.

Boyles said there will be a three-year monitoring period.

Board member James Llorens said the RDA’s staff should make it a point to understand, through conversations with the store owners and suppliers, the inherent profit motives that helped create the problem in the first place.

“If this were profitable, it wouldn’t need special stimulation from this grant from the Mayor’s Office,” board Chairman John Noland agreed.

The Mayor’s Office, Pennington, Together Baton Rouge and the Big River Economic and Agricultural Development Alliance, or BREADA, are among the entities participating in the initiative.