Stores getting grants to combat ‘food deserts’

The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority approved a list of corner stores Thursday to share a $100,000 grant that will bring fresh produce and healthy food to people who live in neighborhoods without a full-service grocery store.

Six stores and two alternates were chosen for the Healthy Corner Store Initiative Grants.

The stores are eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help them stock fresh produce and meat.

The money could be used on everything from installing coolers and improving the layout of stores to lining up distributors for fresh items, said Susannah Bing, the RDA’s director of finance and economic development.

“It is a direct consequence of widespread poverty that we have these food deserts,” said John Noland, RDA chairman.

Noland said the grant would alleviate areas where people are “not able to buy a head of lettuce.”

According to a 2012 report by Pennington Biomedical Research Center scientists, as many as 103,000 East Baton Rouge Parish residents, including 25,000 children, live in food deserts.

Cecilia Santangelo, who co-owns Kelly’s Meat Market, 7744 Plank Road, with her husband, Russell, said the grant will help their store “tremendously.”

They plan to use the grant to put in a refrigerated box to sell fresh produce, such as tomatoes, bell peppers and mustard greens, and more dairy items.

“We’re mainly a fresh meat market,” Santangelo said. “This will allow people to buy the vegetables they will cook their meat with here, instead of stopping somewhere else.”

The Santangelos haven’t been able to put in produce coolers because of the cost.

“I was looking online the other day, and there was nothing decent for under $4,000,” she said.

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

A panel reviewed applications for the grants. The other stores selected are:

Anacona’s Stop & Save, 2705 North St.

Beechwood Meat Market, 4850 Beechwood Drive.

Capital Grocery, 701 Spanish Town Road.

Sewell’s Community Grocery, 469 Elmer Ave.

Smile’s Market & Deli, 2905 Wyandotte St.

Acadian Meat Market, 3475 N. Acadian Thruway, and Creft & Son, 5407 Cadillac St., were selected as alternates and will receive funding if the first six stores don’t take the full $100,000.

Officials have been busy identifying food deserts in the city and ways to fill the void of fresh and healthy foods.

In February, Mayor Kip Holden and Together Baton Rouge officials announced the formation of the Food Access Policy Commission, a 13-member citizen panel to analyze the problem and present solutions to parish and state officials by the end of this year.

Its work is being funded as part of the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative and the funding from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Louisiana.

Commission members include researchers and representatives of nonprofit groups, the AgCenters at LSU and Southern University, private industry, real estate and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

A commission member in February identified seven areas that could qualify as food deserts: parts of Scotlandville, downtown and Old South Baton Rouge, South Baton Rouge, Zion City/Greenwell Springs, Midcity, North Forest/Red Oaks and South Sherwood Forest/Interstate 12/Coursey. The grant program would benefit stores in Scotlandville, Old South Baton Rouge, Midcity and Zion City.

Over recent months, the commission has been conducting a market analysis, while also doing a problem analysis and best practices analysis with the goal of coming up with recommendations for addressing food deserts.