Many people in Kalamazoo live in food deserts, meaning they don’t have a grocery store in their neighborhoods. Several organizations are working to change that.
Greta Gaworski, resource development director for the Loaves and Fishes food bank in Kalamazoo, said some areas of the city and county are well-served; others are not. There are great sections of the city where food deserts exist: residents don’t have easy access to fresh, healthful foods. Many do not have reliable transportation, and therefore have to rely on stores and shops that can be reached on foot. The food pantry estimates nearly 38,000 people have issues ensuring their families have enough food; of those, nearly 9,000 children live in families who rely on federal aid to have enough to eat.
“I think some of the biggest challenges is there are certain areas where those food resources available to residents are not necessarily the healthiest, so there may be the corner store or the party shop or even the grocery stores in that area that aren’t carrying the healthiest foods,” Gaworski said.
These stores usually tend to shelf-stable items that are processed or high in salt and sugar content. Fresh produce can be hard to come by. Certain areas have more access to grocery stores than others; outside the city, stores are even more spread out.
To combat that, the food bank has opened more than 30 food pantries throughout the city of Kalamazoo and the county. These pantries provide fresh produce, dairy, baked goods, frozen meats and other healthful foods to help lower-income families overcome the food deserts throughout the community.
The organization is teaming with local organizations to increase food access.
"I do think we’re fortunate that public transportation is at the table in this conversation," Gaworski said. "I am not sure that is the case in every city, but I know that there have been conversations about expanding bus service routes to try to make sure they are easier for people to get places."
Of particular interest is making sure routes are timely from residential centers to shopping areas and back.
“There have been more conversations about that," Gaworski said.