City officials address food deserts, locals need better access to grocery stores

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — City officials are working to improve food deserts around Indianapolis, and a lot of the planning is falling on their new food policy and program coordinator.

“It’s kind of sad that we have to go so far out and outsource a community when we are in an area where we should have these things available,” local resident Kelah McKee said.

Kelah McKee remembers growing up in the Circle City and her mom having to travel miles to get groceries.

Now she’s an adult and not much has changed.

“I see other mothers going into the gas station trying to use their WIC card and seeing if they accept that type of things, so it’s really hard especially if you’re a mom and don’t have a car,” McKee said.

Cleo’s Bodega and Café has been around for a few months on the city’s near northwest side of town. It’s an area considered to be a food desert.

They sell groceries and grow their own fruits and vegetables to sell.

“If you go far enough any direction you’re going to run into an area where it’s miles between the next grocery store, but the liquor store is right there the gas station is right there,” Cleo’s Bodega and Café’s Assistant Manager Torian Jones said.

About 200,000 people live in areas around Indy where food access is low.

Milele Kennedy is Indy’s new food policy and program coordinator. Her job will be to come up with solutions to fix the food desert problems.

“I have listened to residents from the west side, on the near east side and the one thing that is consistent is there is more of a need for opportunities and places like this,” Kennedy said.

The city has several ideas to address the problem including a food champions program and app.

“Its entire purpose is to be able to give people resources where they are at. They can look for meals, food, food pantry, other partners and programs that can address food needs and other needs they may have,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy is in the planning stages, but she wants to hear from people like Kelah.

“It might just start with one voice and grow to many, and it takes a little perseverance. I really do want to be a part of that solution,” Kennedy said.

The city-county council will vote in a few weeks on the mayor’s proposed budget that includes initiatives that deal with food deserts.

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