PEORIA, Ill. — In January of 2018, food access changed for hundreds of neighbors. Two Kroger stores closed down leaving the East Bluff and South Side of Peoria with less healthy food options.
That area became known as a “grocery gap” or food desert. A food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. This applies to neighbors in urban and suburban neighborhoods that live one mile from a supermarket and neighbors in a rural neighborhood that live 10 miles from a supermarket.
Some food deserts are in low-income neighborhoods where people have less mobility. Transportation plays a large role in accessing grocery stores.
Some people may live 15-20 minutes from a store and still consider it close, however for a person without a car or access to transportation at all it becomes a hassle to get the groceries they need.
Donna Decker of Peoria uses the City Link bus to get around the city.
“With people like me and people like us that have to go to the grocery store it’s a hassle to go,” Decker said.
Decker adds that sometimes she has to settle for the nearest store even if it doesn’t have the food she needs.
Nigel Meeks of Peoria is fortunate enough to live within walking distance from a store with fresh produce. He said it’s very convenient for him, but recognizes that everyone doesn’t have it this easy.
Meeks said living in an area with no supermarket in the vicinity could affect their health.
“A lot of times people go to places that get in get out that don’t have quality food. They tend to eat snack items or just regularly non-healthy food items or without transportation, they may go a little hungry at times,” he said.
WMBD’s Treasure Roberts wanted to see how long it would take someone to get from the City Link bus station in downtown Peoria to the nearest supermarket that sells fresh produce.
She rode a bus from the station to Kroger on Lake Ave. It took 16 stops throughout the city and approximately 25 minutes to arrive. This is a trip some neighbors are forced to make whenever they need to fill their fridge.
After shopping, neighbors ride the bus back to the station often times walking home from there, which also limits how many groceries they can carry.
City leaders are aware of the issue and said neighbors are entitled to grocery stores in their area, but they are not entirely responsible for bringing them back to Peoria.
“They left because the cash registers weren’t ringing enough,” City Councilwoman Denise Moore said.
Less than a year after opening Save-A-Lot also closed on Peoria’s South Side. They intended to stay through their 7-year-contract, but Moore said they were not getting enough business.
“The problem is, as bad as we need a grocer here, grocery stores look to this area and say the same thing we’re saying, you’re losing population, you have low income individuals who are food insecure and may not have the funding to finance buying at a local grocery store.”Denise Moore, Peoria City Council
Jessie McGown Jr. lives in the East Bluff. He said he doesn’t blame the city for the lack of supermarkets in specific areas.
“We’ve run out of options. It’s the corporations, they’re looking at profit and loss. That’s all they looking at they don’t care about the resident,” he said.
Moore said leaders are asking stores to choose Peoria, but emphasizes that it’s a collaborative effort, taking more than just the voices and actions of city leaders.
The Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and the University of Illinois Extension assisted the Regional Fresh Food Council to produce a report regarding the grocery gap in underserved neighborhoods.
The report includes data from a study that included resident surveys, interviews with grocery store managers, regional demographics and market analysis along with additional grocery industry research.
The information they collected encourages better decision making for new local or independent grocery businesses, chain grocery retail attraction, and provides insight to tie future grocery store efforts to existing food security initiatives in the region.
City Leaders also encourage local entrepreneurs interested in launching and operating grocery businesses to step up to the plate.
Also, there is an opportunity for neighbors on the South Side to purchase fresh produce in their area.
South Side Community United for Change launched the South Side Farmers Market where you can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. It will be open Nov. 16 and Nov. 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the old Save-A-Lot building located on 210 S. Western Ave.
These are the last two Saturdays that the market will be open to the public this year.