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Community leaders look to elected officials, legislators to help combat food deserts

CORRECTION Virus Outbreak Arizona
Posted at 6:16 AM, Nov 16, 2020

PHOENIX — The city of Phoenix says a plan is in place to combat the number of food deserts in the Valley.

Forty-two percent of the Phoenix population lives in a food desert, according to the city. A food desert is an area with high poverty where residents, who often lack transportation, live at least a mile from the closest grocery store.

“That statistic, along with some of the health statistics related to obesity and diet-related diseases, all of those health-related influences certainly did affect the city’s decision in starting to get involved in this issue and seeing how we can solve it," said Environmental Programs Coordinator Roseanne Albright.

That is why the city put together the 2025 Food Action Plan which looks to add more gardens, farms, distribution centers, and grocery stores to the areas that need them most.

Some community members say while they appreciate the steps being taken by the city, they feel more needs to be done and they're looking to their elected officials to step up.

“It’s very frustrating because as an elected official, you need to cover all areas of your district and some of them might not receive the same attention that others do," said Channel Powe, Governing Board President of the Balsz Elementary School District.

Councilmember Carlos Garia represents her district. He says he understands that food deserts are a huge problem throughout District 8.

"As long as we’ve been here, we’ve been pushing to make sure that food is available," he said.

Garcia says there have been problems getting more grocery stores in District 8 because some areas, specifically around Sky Harbor Airport, are losing population.

“With the uncertainty of if the airport's going to grow north or not, it’s been hard to get grocery stores to commit," he said.

He says there is one project he believes can help. The city is in the early stages of building a food distribution innovation center at the site of the old Del Rio Landfill in south Phoenix. It will serve as a produce distribution center, include a farmer's market, and have research facilities related to local agriculture.

"And help us spark the area to bring more business, to bring more development to the area," Garcia said.

But will that be enough?

President of the Arizona Food Bank Network Angie Rodgers says as we head into the next legislative session, she's having conversations with lawmakers to make sure the issue of hunger is at the forefront.

“I always think that we can raise the issue of hunger and poverty in every community to our elected officials," Rodgers said. “I encourage people to reach out to their elected officials, to share their stories, to tell what’s going on in their community so that they are aware, so that no one has the excuse of, 'I didn’t know.'"

“We definitely need more support from the state legislature," Powe said. "I wish the governor would break the piggy bank and open up those additional $444 million still left in CARES Act funding."

ABC15 reached out to Governor Doug Ducey's office and asked if the governor had any plans for additional funding for schools dealing with food insecurity. A spokesperson said, "Addressing hunger and helping Arizonans keep food on the table has been a priority. The governor has used federal CARES Act dollars and state assistance, on top of allocations from the AZ Coronavirus Relief Fund, to support our food banks and food delivery services."

The Governor's office said just last month they allocated over $1 million to state aid to expand food bank assistance.

But as Rodgers said, the issue of hunger has not gotten better during this pandemic -- it's gotten worse. So ABC15 will continue to stay on top of this issue and bring you more of the solutions over the next few weeks.