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County program brings healthy options to food deserts

Dayton stands out as one of the worst cities in the nation for food hardship, and county officials say it’s time to do more about the scarcity of healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods.

Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County officials are combating nutrition issues through the “Good Food Here — Healthy Corner Store” initiative, funded by a Communities Preventing Chronic Disease (CPCD) grant. The county is two years into the four-year grant, which will invest a total of $400,000 into issues like food scarcity and preventing obesity.

“Montgomery County is considered a food desert in many neighborhoods,” said Haley Riegel, CPCD grant manager for the county. “What we’re trying to do is increase food access in these neighborhoods for residents who can’t drive to grocery stores easily. We’re working with corner stores to provide more produce and healthy options like whole grains.”

The Food Mart at 1413 N. Main St. was selected to participate in the program. Riegel and other public health workers were at the store on Friday to talk with area residents about nutrition.

This is the second store to join the initiative, and store manager Naser Abdou said the business is comitted to providing healthy foods to the community. Baskets of bananas, apples, potatoes and onions were placed at the front of the store near the register.

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“Our customers like having these options to buy,” Abdou said.

Dayton ranked as one of the worst metropolitan areas in the U.S. for food hardship in 2015, according to the Food Research & Action Center. The city ranked 11th out of the 109 metropolitan statistical areas represented in Gallup data for “households who indicated they experienced food hardship.”

The participating stores offer healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, low-sodium canned goods, low-fat dairy options, and whole grains to local residents in an effort to transform the neighborhood from an urban food desert.

Nationally, the rate of food hardship has fallen from nearly 19 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2015, according to the FRAC. The group asked citizens: “Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” One in six households answered the question with “yes,” according to FRAC.

Trudy Elder, chief strategic officer for the nonprofit Homefull, said there is a movement of people in Dayton working together to bring healthy food options to “those who need it the most.” Homefull provides care and services to the homeless through housing, advocacy and education.

“In addition to safety and affordable housing, low-income folks really do need access to healthy fresh foods and access to jobs,” Elder said.

Otto Wagner Sr., a Dayton resident, peeled a banana as he sat in his car outside of the Food Mart. He said the push to offer more food options will have a positive impact on the neighborhood.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “You know, we tell our kids to eat healthy. Well, then we have to lead by example.”

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