The USDA estimates that 29 million Americans have limited access to healthy food, while obesity and other diet-related diseases continue to plague low-income urban and rural communities. TRF works to fill these gaps through healthy food financing, research, and advocacy.
For the residents of Baltimore’s Howard Park, having a supermarket in the neighborhood has long been a dream. Considered a food desert, many of Howard Park’s residents don’t have a car and over a fifth of the families live in poverty. This summer, thanks to financing from TRF, in partnership with JPMorgan Chase, City First Bank, Opportunity Finance Network and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, local residents welcomed a new ShopRite supermarket. Along with easy access to affordable, fresh food, the store brings 250 full- and part-time jobs, many filled by local residents. The store also houses a health clinic, pharmacy, and after school nutrition education program for elementary students.
In the Hill District in Pittsburgh, PA, residents celebrated the opening of a new Shop n’ Save grocery store, after 25 years without a full-service supermarket. TRF invested grant funds in the project, which is located in a low-income, historic and disinvested neighborhood. The Hill is the historic cultural center for the African-American community in Pittsburgh—many plays by the great playwright August Wilson take place on the Hill. This long-overdue investment has brought fresh, healthy food to the neighborhood and created 125 jobs, 65% of which were filled by community residents.
For Juan Diaz, owner of the Bethlehem C-Town Supermarket, opening a supermarket in the city was fraught with challenges. To locate his store, he had identified a small, multi-tenant, primarily commercial center with a dark supermarket. Diaz approached several banks to get the capital he needed to acquire and renovate the building as well as to equip the store, but had no success.
“The biggest challenge was to find a lender who understood the dynamics of my business. Traditional lenders would barely want to speak to me about this project.”
Finally Diaz turned to TRF. He found a real partner who not only understood how to help him finance the project, but who also understood the importance of the project to the community, which sorely needed a modern supermarket. With TRF financing, the store opened in December 2013 in a Limited Supermarket Access (LSA) area. The project renovated and expanded the former small bodega into the full-service C-Town Supermarket. The market caters to the tastes and preferences of the primarily Hispanic community and created 20 full-time and 10 part-time jobs for residents of the Lehigh Valley.
In all, TRF estimates that our healthy food investments to date serve more than 1 million Americans. In 2013 alone, TRF invested $27.6 million in healthy food projects, from supermarkets to co-ops and food pantries.
Building on our history in financing healthy food access, this year TRF launched ReFresh, a comprehensive national effort to scale healthy food solutions. ReFresh evolved out of TRF’s extensive experience in working to improve the food landscape in low-income communities. Since 2000, TRF has directly financed $184.7 million in healthy food projects, leveraging an additional $253.5 million in investments, particularly in communities that have gone decades without easy or equitable access to fresh food. TRF has also authored 10 reports on food issues and was pleased to see a national healthy food financing initiative—for which we advocated—included in the 2013 Farm Bill. ReFresh builds on that history of investment and collaboration. We bring together capital, data and capacity, providing a platform for partners across the country to share expertise and pursue opportunities.
This summer, TRF made a Commitment to Action as part of the Clinton Global Initiative: TRF will significantly scale ReFresh to facilitate $100 million in financing to healthy food projects across the country over the next three years. Under this effort, TRF is also updating its pioneering Limited Supermarket Access analysis for the nation and working with partners to study need in targeted geographies.
Given the growth of diet-related diseases as a public health risk in the United States, particularly among children and poor and minority populations, many are focused on slowing and reversing this trend. TRF authored a report, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, that highlights some of the barriers to healthy eating as well as effective intervention strategies to address them. The report looks at existing research on healthy food interventions, with a particular focus on strategies that seek to influence an individual’s personal food environment, and highlight programs—or components of programs—that we believe have promise.
Increasing access to healthy food can be part of a comprehensive approach to community development that works to create the assets, amenities and resources that communities and families need to thrive. Last year, TRF studied food access in Maryland, identifying communities where the need to improve access to healthy food retail is the highest. The study quantified and analyzed need, which laid critical groundwork for a bill recently approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Martin O’Malley that will make $1 million available for use in the state’s food deserts. Our partners in this effort include the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, the Baltimore City Planning Department and the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.