Several Valley communities considered 'food deserts'
According to United States Department of Agriculture maps, Youngstown has a significant number of residents at least one mile away from a grocery store. And when you add in residents at least half a mile away from one, the entire city is a food desert.
Access to fresh fruits and vegetables has been a problem in Youngstown for years, especially after the Bottom Dollar stores closed their doors.
Officials have been trying to bring grocery stores to the city, which is right in the middle of what's called a 'food desert.' A food desert is an urban area where it's difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.
So how much of Youngstown is in a food desert? The simple answer, all of it.
According to United States Department of Agriculture maps, most of the city has a significant number of residents at least one mile away from a grocery store, and when you add in residents at least half a mile away from one, the entire city is a food desert.
Data from USDA shows that this hasn't changed since at least 2010.
And it's not just Youngstown. Parts of Austintown, Boardman, Girard, Niles, and Warren are all considered 'food deserts.'
People with easy access to transportation may not realize they're in a food desert, but for those with unreliable transportation, it can be difficult to find healthy and fresh food options.
"Our grocery situation is really bad because we don't have a vehicle," said Therow Hardy, who lives on Youngstown's South-side.
When Bottom Dollar on Glenwood Avenue was open it would have been just a short walk from Hardy's home. But, with the grocery store doors now closed he said the closest grocery store is about a mile and a half from his home. The round trip is sometimes too time-consuming when he works 50+ hours a week, and his wife works too. Often times they resort to what is convenient.
"It makes me sad, like really sad that I can't feed my daughter the way I want her to eat, healthy," said Hardy.
Hardy's friend, Hasan Staton, has transportation but even then said because of finances a lot of people resort to fast food.
"Because there's a dollar menu here or there's a box or something like that, but of course we know that's not healthy at all and of course any sustained way of eating that's causing me to wonder just what are the kids doing, how's their health," said Staton.
Youngstown Councilman Julius Oliver explains that when it comes to selecting locations, grocery stores often look for a certain demographic and population.
"Typically a grocery stores profit margin is only about 2% so they have to be sure that they're going to make the money back on their investment when moving into an area," said Oliver. "That's why they typically locate in heavily populated areas with a certain income."
Councilman Oliver, as well as Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, are looking into ways to help provide transportation to-and-from grocery stores to some of the city's elderly. Tuesday night, Oliver dedicated $500 of his discretionary fund toward that goal.
Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown is also looking for a solution. He traveled to Toledo on Tuesday with other local officials and advocates. The group met with Toledo's mayor and non-profit health professionals to learn how they've tackled their food desert problem.
They first met at the Cherry Street Mission, where people learn how to be healthy on their own. They then focused on social factors that can affect a community's overall health.
Read more about the visit, here.