Food access for residents on the south side of Springfield will be, “more difficult” after the last grocery store in the area closes in a few weeks, according to the Clark County Combined Health District.
Kroger is planning to close its store at 1822 S. Limestone St. on March 4, according to the company.
The neighborhood lost two other grocery stores — IGA and Big Bear Supermarket — over the last 10 years.
The closures have created a food desert on the south side, a statement from the CCCHD said. Food deserts are defined as geographical areas devoid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods, according to the CCCHD.
“One of the barriers for people pursuing a healthy diet is a lack of access to high-quality, nutritious food,” the statement said. “Individuals who cannot access full-service grocery stores are more likely to purchase food from convenience stores, where fresh produce and other healthy foods may be of limited quanity and low quality, if not entirely absent.”
The CCCHD recently conducted a survey to assess food insecurity and identify food deserts in the county. Results of the survey indicated that full-service grocery stores with adequately priced produce were in neighborhoods with higher median incomes, the statement said.
“The south side of Springfield had the fewest stores with fresh produce, processed produce or the ability to accept food assistance program (EBT or WIC),” the statement said. “These factors qualify this area as a food desert. The unfortunate closing of the Kroger grocery store on South Limestone only compounds this issue.”
The South Limestone Street store is closing as part of the company’s Restock Kroger plan, the company said in a statement when it announced the future of the store on Jan. 31.
“As part of the Restock Kroger plan, the company will utilize more of its capital to fund technology and infrastructure upgrades to provide its customers with a seamless shopping experience by accelerating digital growth in the region,” the statement said.
The chain announced the Restock Kroger initiative in 2017, which included plans to roll out more programs like ClickList and its Scan, Bag, Go program to more stores. ClickList allows customers to order groceries online and pick them up at a local store, while Scan, Bag, Go allows customers to scan items as they shop through the store, Kroger’s website says.
Potential health problems
The Clark County Local Foods Council, a community organization whose mission is to promote the consumption of local food as a catalyst for health, social and economic transformation, said the store’s closure will leave 37% of Springfield residents without access to fresh foods.
Many of the 22,000 residents affected by the closure are considered low-income, low-access by the United States Department of Agriculture, a statement from the CCLFC said.
“This impact will be deeply felt,” the statement said. “In our community, ill effects from food inequality are already present in the health of residents.”
What’s happening with Kroger is part of a national trend, according to the statement.
“A national pattern of grocery stores leaving communities of color and low-income communities has led to what researchers and advocates are referring to as ‘food apartheid’,” the statement said. “Because of transportation barriers, these closures have a greater impact on the surrounding populations, as people are left with little choice but to eat processed foods from nearby gas stations, fast food restaurants and corner stores.”
The health impact of of inadequate grocery service on the south side is already evident, according to the statement.
The 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by the CCCHD shows that about 14% of Clark County adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, which is 4% higher higher than the average of counties in Ohio and 5% higher than the national average.
“The 2019 CHNA findings suggest that the majority of adults and children living in poverty in Springfield are the same people who will be most affected by the decision to close this grocery store, as it is the last full-service grocery within walkable distance,” the statement said.
Tracy Brown lives just a few blocks away from the South Limestone Kroger. She said she walks to the grocery almost every day because she does not have any transportation.
“There are people that walk here. What about people who don’t have cars to get there?” Brown said. “This is a tragedy to Springfield. For me too. For everybody. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Kali Lawrence, executive director of the Springfield Promise Neighborhood and south side resident, said the nearest store will be four miles away after Kroger closes.
“There is no other location that will provide fresh, affordable, local food and vegetables that will sustain a neighborhood and the health of the community that lives there,” Lawrence said.
Springfield Promise Neighborhood works with schools like Lincoln Elementary school to start community gardens as a source of fresh produce in the community, Lawrence said.
“Those community gardens are resources for the public, partly because Kroger was the only source for that kind of stuff,” Lawrence said. “The loss of (Kroger) to this community is going to be felt and it’s going to be felt very seriously for years to come.”
The community gardens might be the only source of produce for residents who are without transportation with the closest grocery being four miles away, Lawrence said.
“I care really deeply about this. I care deeply about the people this is going to affect,” Lawrence said.
‘Yes the south side is a food desert’
The Chamber of Greater Springfield President Mike McDorman and Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck are moving forward in talks with community leaders and Kroger officials regarding the grocer’s closing, according to a news release issued Friday.
Officials are concerned about the closure’s impact on the community, and are working to find solutions.
“As community leaders, it’s our job to continually strike a balance between supporting neighborhood businesses and the interest of the public,” said McDorman. “In this case, we have an established community grocer that is changing its business model, and residents who depend on the services they currently provide. We are committed to finding a solution that everyone can get behind.”
City leaders said they are also concerned about the neighborhood becoming a food desert.
Kroger’s closure will have an adverse impact, “not only in terms of lost jobs in our community but also on our friends and neighborhoods in the surrounding neighborhoods who have long depended on the South Limestone Kroger for their shopping needs,” Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said in a statement after learning the grocery would be closing.
“We are extremely mindful of the void that will create for area residents who already find retail options in their neighborhoods to be limited,” Copeland said.
City and community leaders announced last week that they will host a community forum at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at the Dome located at 700 S. Limestone St. Leaders said they will update the community about their latest talks with Kroger and possible solutions. Anyone needing transportation to the meeting can text RIDE2DOME to 41411.
Copeland said Thursday the city is in the process of attempting to convince Kroger to “walk away from the building so it is available for someone else to provide food to the area.”
“Without that, the south side really does not have a grocery store. We are doing everything we can to make the best out of the situation,” Copeland said.
Addressing transportation needs in the neighborhood will be a key focus, Copeland said.
“For those without transportation, yes the south side is a food desert. And transportation is a key problem the city is looking into how to help people out,” Copeland said.
Tyra Jackson, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank, said the food bank has been involved in conversations with community leaders about food insecurity on the south side.
“We are also working with groups that are meeting to see if there is anything we can distribute to anyone who needs assistance,” Jackson said.
She said she expects the food bank to distribute more food, more frequently as a result of the store’s closure.
“Most definitely we will distribute more food with this. We understand that we might have to expand our hours, or where we are actually locating different mobile pantries,” Jackson said.
The food bank saw around 5,000 more people in 2019 than they did in 2018, and they expect that number to grow again this year, Jackson said.
“The need for food is getting greater and with not having a resource like (Kroger), it’s going to be felt even more,” Jackson said.
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