No transportation in a food desert: Steelton residents helping others get to grocery store

Local

STEELTON, Pa. (WHTM) — Food deserts continue to be a problem in the Midstate, where access to fresh, healthy food isn’t easily accessible.

Steelton Borough in Dauphin County is one of those areas. Now some residents are trying to organize transportation to local grocery stores.

Corner stores and discount chains offer food in Steelton, often not fresh nor nutritious.

“But we need somewhere that our residents can go that has fresh fruits and vegetables, so fresh produce and then meat as well,” Natashia Woods, Steelton resident and borough council member said.

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It’s an issue that the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank recognizes.

“This map here, what I’m showing you, is the USDA definition of a food desert where it’s low-income and low-access so there’s not a grocery store really within one mile of this urban area or 10 miles for rural,” Jennifer Sands, communications and marketing manager for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank said.

USDA Food Access Research Atlas

All that green area is covering Steelton.

“With our food assistance programs, we’re prioritizing the areas that are investing now in research to target even more attention and investment to high need, low access areas and we know Steelton is one of those areas,” Sands said. “We’re focused on it with our fresh express mobile distribution program where we have some partners in the area where we’ll take fresh healthy food to them and somebody who is in need can come to the fresh express mobile distribution and have access to the healthy, nutritious foods that they need.”

According to the USDA, 22% of households in the borough don’t have cars.

“If you don’t have access to a vehicle, you’re not going to be able to go the mile to the grocery store,” Sands said. “It may only be a mile to where the grocery store is, but we know that you can’t get there. So we’re really focused on that, researching that.”

“We need a grocery store in Steelton, bottom line,” Woods said.

In the meantime, Woods is helping another Steelton resident come up with a temporary solution.

“Jules came up with the idea to work with a local church who has a van, at least starting off one day a week, could folks who are in need, could he take them to local grocery stores to get the food?” Woods said.

They’re reaching out to low-income housing units to see if people would be interested in the service and say they may be able to help more than once a week if others volunteer.

“We are going to start off small but we just want to be able to give our residents the access that they need to the transportation,” Woods said.

If you’re interested in participating in the program to get a ride to the grocery store or want to volunteer, you can contact Woods at nwoods@steeltonpa.com or 717-421-8054.

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