MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – According to the most recent USDA research, more than 19 million people in the U.S have limited access to a supermarket, meaning they likely live in a food desert.
It’s one of the many factors contributing to food insecurity in the country, but Mecklenburg County is working to bridge that gap.
When you live in a food desert, finding fresh produce can be tricky explains Karina Gonzalez, the Health Policy Coordinator for Mecklenburg County.
“For lot of people, this is the only place where they can find food,” she said while showing FOX 46 around Mi Tiendita Mini Market in east Charlotte.
It’s the reason why the county started the Refrigeration Pilot program this year to make fresh, healthy foods more accessible.
Gonzalez said, “There are many residents who don’t have access to a full-service grocery store and they rely on neighborhood corner stores that traditionally carry items that are high in sugar and fats.”
The initiative has brought four coolers to mini markets in the 28205 zip code, where transportation is often the biggest barrier in getting to a full grocery store.
“If they do want to take public transportation, it takes them longer, they don’t have a way to transport the food that they buy so it’s a little bit more of a hassle,” said Gonzalez.
Meck County even offers coupons to encourage shoppers to try something new from the fridge or produce stand.
Gonzales said, “By offering the coupons, they can come in and say ‘This is affordable, I can bring this home and offer it to my family and have a good healthy meal.”
The program is part of the N.C Healthy Food Retail Designation Program, making sure stores like Mi Tiendita carry fruits, vegetables, water, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat milk.
“They were so excited and they themselves started to make improvements to the store. They already have plans for the future. They want to expand and maybe provide smoothies and salads,” Gonzalez said.
One of the Mi Tiendita’s owners, Yaneth Rivera said that their customers love having a one-stop shop on their street.
“Customers are very happy that they can come and buy other products, fruits, and vegetables. They can get everything here, they don’t have to buy other things at the other stores,” Rivera said.
Gonzalez added that they program has been a success so far and she hopes to see it grow.
“We are seeing that people are using the coupons and people are enjoying seeing more and more fresh fruits and vegetables in the stores,” she said.
Click here for a full list of stores participating in the Refrigerator Pilot Program.