BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Efforts to increase access to healthy groceries in food deserts seem to be blossoming in the Red Stick. In Louisiana, 1 in 6 people struggles with hunger, according to information provided by HealthyBR.
After the city-parish received a $2 million grant to encourage healthy living and eating in October 2018, several programs have launched in zip code 70802, one of city’s most food-insecure neighborhoods.
Some of the funds were used to bring in Top Box as well as launch a mobile food market, managed by Grow Baton Rouge.
Over the past three months, Top Box Foods, a nonprofit that delivers fresh produce to food-insecure communities, has established six pickup locations in Baton Rouge. Residents can order their “Top Boxes,” filled with fruits, vegetables and meats, online. Every month, trucks deliver these boxes to local pickup spots that are often at community centers and churches.
The nonprofit also works to bring fresh produce to convenience stores, which, in some communities, is the only source for groceries. On June 21, the SMS Food Mart on Plank Road hosted a grand opening that includes a produce market. The other convenience store participating in the Top Box Foods’ Healthy Corner Store initiative is Express Mart, located at 3322 N. Foster Drive.
For every month, you select food options packaged in a “Top Box.” These options include the Family Box, the diabetic-friendly Small Family Box, the Grill Box, the Fruit Box, and the Vegetable Box. These products provide healthy meals at cheaper costs compared to retail grocery stores, according to the nonprofit.
The orders are then packaged and sent to a local community center, where residents can pick them up. The program accepts all forms of payment, including SNAP benefits. Five percent of the sales revenue are returned to partnering organizations.
You can order boxes by filling out an order form and view the delivery and pickup calendar through the nonprofits’ website.
There’s also an option to order groceries over the phone at (225) 242-9667. Or, you can fill out a form and provide it to one of the pickup locations.
Top Box Foods started in May 2012 in Chicago and has since grown to serve community in New Orleans, and Lake County, Illinois.
New Orleans, which has been rebuilding its food community after Hurricane Katrina, currently has 21 pick-up locations.
Efforts have been made to make certain neighborhoods in Baton Rouge are more food secure. The United State Food and Drug Administration defines a “food desert" as a a low-income census tract where a substantial number of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.
For East Baton Rouge Parish, 17 percent of the population lives in areas where there is low access to grocery stores. The national average is eight percent. Some of these neighborhoods that are food insecure are ones located along Plank Road and Choctaw Drive.
At least 50 percent of these residents are living below the poverty line, according to a 2013 map with data from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
A lot of these programs are trying to increase food accessibility to communities along the Plank Road corridor. That area has been the center of revitalization over the past few years.
Tackling blight has been a spotlighted issue, and organizations like Build Baton Rouge have been working with the community to reduce or renovate eyesore properties.