City's 'food desert' concern grows as more supermarkets close

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Areas of the city already short of places residents can buy healthy affordable food are being hit again.

Some of the stores Marsh Supermarkets is closing are located in or near food deserts. The mayor’s office is concerned that the locked doors and dark stores may put healthy food out of the reach of many families.

Along East Washington Street, in the Irvington area, people do a lot of walking. They don’t have a choice, according to Debbie Ruvolo who lives in the area.

“Most people in this area do not have a lot of money," she said. “Bus fare is two dollars one way, four dollars for an all-day pass.

A lot of individuals and families can’t afford their own car. When the local Marsh closes next month, they will have to travel miles to the nearest grocery.

Angela DeLafuente grew up in Irvington. “Some of the elderly people, some of the people that have been going there for years are going to be out of luck," she explained. “It’s going to be hard, almost impossible."

The mayor’s office estimates as many as one in five Indianapolis residents live in so-called food deserts... areas where groceries are scarce and access to healthy food is limited.

Some of the closing stores are in low income areas and existing deserts, making the situations even worse.

“It continues to bring to light the challenges of food access and food insecurity for some of our most vulnerable residents, said deputy mayor of community development Jeff Bennett. "It’s a huge concern for us when we see grocery stores closing in areas of high need," he added.

The mayor’s offices are scheduling meetings with neighborhood residents to determine the size of the problem.

“To get a sense of what neighborhoods want, what do they expect that might go back into these Marsh sites or might fill the gaps in food access in their communities,” Bennett said.

The daunting options include creating grocery co-ops, establishing urban gardens or farms and organizing food delivery trucks.

Bennett believes it is unlikely other full-sized supermarkets would take the place of Marsh. They are setting their sights on smaller groceries with lower overhead costs.

“But are delivering the products that neighborhoods want, I think that is certainly realistic," Bennett said.

The city is aware of other grocers eyeing some the buildings Marsh is closing. It hopes the “lookers" become buyers.