Nearly $2 million in grant funds hope to fill food gap

Food desert help

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It may not have sand, but for residents in the 70805 zip code, it’s a desert... a food desert.

“Sometimes, people like us, we need food because sometimes we don’t have it at the house,” said Kezonda Stewart.

“The clients that we serve, they would have to go a mile and beyond to receive fresh produce, fresh fruit and vegetables,” said Eddie O’Conner, food pantry intake coordinator for Hope Ministries. “We need it to be readily accessible.”

RELATED: Healthy BR and partners address ‘food insecurity’

Fresh food will soon be readily available to people in areas with high food insecurities. It’s all thanks to a new program called Geaux Get Healthy. The initiative will work in three Baton Rouge zip codes with high food insecurities rates (70805, 70807, and 70802).

“We need it and the stuff that we don’t see in the pantry, you have to go to the store and get it,” Stewart said.

But even the grocery stores in these parts of Baton Rouge are few and far between, making it difficult for people like Stewart to access fresh food. Food pantries like the one at Hope Ministries, where Stewart volunteers, help to pick up the slack. “Some people don’t have cars and have to catch the bus or walk to get it,” she said.

This new initiative by Healthy BR will help boost the work of those pantries.

Almost $2 million in grants funded by the Humana Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana have been designated to create a host of programs, which include a fresh food ordering service and community garden in the most dis-invested areas.

The partnership will make the food available at an affordable price while providing educational tools for healthy food consumption.

“We’re creatures of habit,” O’Conner said. “We normally do what we are accustomed to doing, the way we’ve always done it, so when they provide nutritional food, they have to be taught how to use it,” he said.

These vegetables aren't ready for picking now, but the seeds planted are the jump start this community needs to help fix the food gap.

“I think this is a great start for the community,” said Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. “It is certainly offering a response to citizens in these areas of 70805 who have said they want to access, they want fresh foods just like everyone else.”

For people like Stewart, who work to make sure everyone who enters the pantry gets what they need, access to more food will surely set the tone for a bright future in north Baton Rouge.

Residents will also have access to discounted food through Top Box NOLA, where people can order food through local groups, a mobile market where food will be brought into neighborhoods, and a youth farm where people will be taught how to grow food.

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