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The Governor’s Food Desert Working Group released its report and recommendations Friday morning, at Little Rock Union Station, to elected officials, community leaders, potential funders, and interested citizens.
Co-Chair and Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance CEO Kathy Webb detailed the problem, noting that 62 of the 75 counties in Arkansas have areas considered food deserts. Those are, according to the definition used by the group from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “geographical areas where residents have few to no convenient options for securing affordable and healthy foods-especially fresh fruits and vegetables. Disproportionately found in high poverty areas, food deserts create extra everyday hurdles that can make it harder for kids, families, and communities to grow strong and healthy.” Webb thanked Governor Hutchinson, who in a written statement said, “the recommendations put forward today by this diverse working group on food insecurity offer a blueprint to all levels of government, business, community leaders, non-profits, foundations, and more.”
Dr. Joe Thompson, President and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) reviewed several recommendations related to government, including tax incentives for grocers, a revolving loan program, and easier use of benefits for online grocery ordering.
Rachel Spencer from the Walmart Foundation discussed how some models the group reviewed used foundation dollars, stacked with private investment, and government support, to create sustainable grocery stores or alternative models. One model Spencer discussed, the Grocery Online Ordering Delivery Service (GOODS) model in Drew, Mississippi, received money from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Altheimer Mayor Zola Hudson accompanied the Working Group to Drew to see how the model works, then returned a second time with additional community leaders. Mayor Hudson said getting a place for groceries, including fresh fruits and vegetables, in Altheimer, would “mean the world” to her town.
Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas CEO Christie Jordan shared several of the successful models the group studied, including a city-owned grocery store, a subscription self-service market, a grocery distribution hub, and a healthy corner market, that is launching in northeast Arkansas soon.
Kenya Eddings, Co-Chair and Executive Director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission said that this is the beginning, not the end, and that the group will continue to examine models and ideas that can make a difference to Arkansans. The report, prepared by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, can be found at www.arhungeralliance.org.