Wednesday, July 20, 2011

First Lady To Announce Project To Combat Food Deserts, With 1,500 Markets Across US - UPDATED

Commitments from Walgreens, Walmart, SuperValu & others will bring healthier foods to underserved communities, create jobs...The commitment details...
UPDATE, July 21: A full, MUST READ POST about the initiative is here.
At the White House this afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama will be joined by corporate chiefs from Walmart, Walgreens and SuperValu, and smaller regional market chains as she announces a new initiative to support the Let's Move! campaign, an East Wing official tells Obama Foodorama. The corporate giants have agreed to open or expand 1,500 stores in underserved communities--identified as food deserts--to make affordable, healthier food options more accessible to more than 9.5 million customers. The First Lady will speak about not only the health benefits of combating food deserts, but the jobs that these new projects will create in their communities. Leaders from foundations and small businesses will also join Mrs. Obama in the East Room for the 2:30 PM announcement.

Mrs. Obama in 2010 announced a Let's Move! goal of completely eliminating food deserts in the US over the next seven years, and the new initiative is designed to meet that goal, and comes as the US unemployment rate hovers at 9.2%. USDA defines a food desert as a Census tract where 33% or 500 people, whichever is less, live more than a mile from a grocery store in an urban area, or more than ten miles away in a rural area.

Partnership for a Healthier America, the foundation set up to monitor and continue Mrs. Obama's work, arranged the corporate partnerships for the campaign, an East Wing official says. Decisions on where stores will be located will be based on the needs of the communities they will serve. There is no federal financial commitment to the partner corporations, although in 2010 Mrs. Obama established the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a $400 million fund to combat food deserts, financed by Treasury, USDA, and HHS. It was not funded in the President's 2011 budget. UPDATE, 4:30 PM: A White House aide this morning said there would be no federal financial commitment, but Mrs. Obama at 3:10 PM announced that $35 million has been earmarked through the HFFI. Melody Barnes, Chair of the Domestic Policy Council, later said this money will be from Treasury and HHS, but did not explain who would receive it. Mrs. Obama also announced that the 2012 budget proposal requests an additional $330 million for the HFFI.

UPDATE, 5:00 PM: Further clarification, from Hannah August, Mrs. Obama's Press Secretary: The HFFI funding "is not new money...HHS already announced the availability for $10 million in grants for healthy food access projects through their Community Economic Development Program. Treasury already announced the availability of $25 million through its Community Development Financial Institutions program."

"We plan to use federal monies to leverage hundreds of millions more from the private and non-profit sectors," August said.

For the record, Mrs. Obama has never previously mentioned the $35 million figure for the HFFI in public remarks.

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As part of the new project, California FreshWorks Fund has committed to securing $200 million to promote healthy food retailing in California. It is a project of The California Endowment, and the public-private partnership loan fund will create or retain approximately 6,000 jobs, according to the White House.

The new initiative does not have a formal name, an aide said, such as Let's Move Markets. Although that would be a good one.

The First Lady's announcement comes on the heels of a major study on food deserts and food access published on July 11 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study tracked the food purchasing habits of thousands of people in Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland for fifteen years, and found that "greater supermarket availability was generally unrelated to diet quality and fruit and vegetable intake, and relationships between grocery store availability and diet outcomes were mixed."

The National Commitment details:

*Walmart, in January, already made the commitment to open outlets in food deserts, when executives joined Mrs. Obama to announce their Nutrition Charter. But the Arkansas company has now set a target date of 2016 for building 275-300 stores. About 800,000 people in rural and urban areas with limited or no access to grocery options will be served, the company says.

*SuperValu, of Minnesota, which currently has 2,500 retail outlets, has pledged to build 250 Save-A-Lot stores in food deserts in the next five years. This will serve 3.75 million people and create more than 6,000 new jobs, according to the company.

*Walgreens, a Chicago-based retailer, has been adding fresh foods and produce to stores over the last two years, but has pledged to transform 1,000 stores into "food oasis stores," which means that whole fruits and vegetables, pre-cut fruit salads and green salads as well as breads and ready-made meals will now be available at these locations. Walgreens estimates that these stores will serve nearly 4.8 million people. Walgreens is the nation’s largest drugstore chain, operating 7,733 drugstores in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The Regional Commitments:

Calhoun Grocer – Committed to building 10 stores in Alabama and Tennessee
Calhoun is an African American, family owned, small local chain based in Montgomery, Alabama. They serve areas in and around Mobile where their stores are often the only ones serving the community they are operating in. Calhoun has committed to building 10 stores over the next 5 years in Alabama and Tennessee. Calhoun estimates they will create approximately 500 jobs and serve 10,000 people.

Brown’s Super Store – Committed to building one new supermarket in Philadelphia and expanding one existing store in Chelthenham, PA
Brown’s Super Stores is a family owned and operated supermarket chain of Philadelphia area ShopRite supermarkets and was founded in 1988 by President and CEO Jeffrey Brown. Brown operates 10 ShopRite Supermarkets in the Philadelphia area, with five of his stores located in communities that were previously underserved communities.

Brown will be opening one new supermarket in North Philadelphia and expanding an existing location in Chelthenham, PA as part of Mrs. Obama’s campaign. The state-of-the-art stores will feature several new innovations including a culturally inspired International Foods Department, Health Clinic, social service office and Pharmacy. Brown expects this expansion and new store will create approximately 325 jobs and serve 150,000 people.

Klein’s Family Markets – Committed to opening one new store in Baltimore, MD
Klein’s Family Markets is headquartered in Forest Hill, MD, and Klein’s has committed to building one new store in Baltimore, MD and estimates creating approximately 275 jobs and serve 75,000 people. The state-of-the-art store will feature several new innovations including a culturally inspired International Foods Department, Health Clinic, social service office and Pharmacy.

More on food deserts: Nationwide, USDA estimates that 23.5 million people, including 6.5 million children, live in low-income areas that are more than a mile from a supermarket. Of the 23.5 million, 11.5 million are low-income individuals in households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. Of the 2.3 million people living in low-income rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket, 1.1 million are low-income. View USDA's Food Desert Locator here.

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