These 50 communities in NJ have a hard time getting to supermarkets
It’s a simple concept. The refrigerator is empty and the pantry is bare. So, what do you do? You go to the supermarket and stock up, right?
Well, for many New Jerseyans it’s not as simple as that.
There are 50 food desert communities, home to 1.5 million New Jersey residents across a diverse range of communities in all 21 counties, according to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
What is a food desert community?
A food desert community is a community that is experiencing food insecurity, said Emily Apple, director for economic security at NJEDA.
At the federal level, it is defined generally as being within a certain proximity of a supermarket.
“But in New Jersey we undertook a really thorough community-driven process where we went out and asked people what it meant to be in a food desert community, to come up with a comprehensive definition that encompassed not only what is the food retail environment in your ability to act as a grocery store but also looking at factors like the housing cost in your community,” Apple said.
What are the transit options? What are the levels of enrollment in federal nutrition benefits so that people can not only access food but afford it?
“Ultimately, we found nearly 1.5 million New Jerseyans living in food desert communities across the state,” she said.
North, Central and South Camden/Woodlynne in Camden County is the number one food desert community in New Jersey. Montague Township in Sussex County ranked 50th on the list from the NJEDA.
Where are the 50 food desert communities in New Jersey? (Ranked 1 - 50)
1. North, Central and South Camden/Woodlynne - Camden County
2. Atlantic City/Ventnor - Atlantic County
3. Newark South - Essex County
4. Newark West - Essex County
5. Camden East/Pennsauken - Camden County
6. Trenton West - Mercer County
7. Newark North and Central - Essex County
8. Newark East - Essex County
9. Salem City - Salem County
10. Passaic City - Passaic County
11. Trenton East - Mercer County
12. Bridgeton/Fairfield Twp/Lawrence Twp - Cumberland County
13. Paterson South - Passaic County
14. New Brunswick City - Middlesex County
15. Paterson North - Passaic County
16. Irvington Township - Essex County
17. Asbury Park City - Monmouth County
18. Jersey City South - Hudson County
19. East Orange City - Essex County
20. Penns Grove/Carneys Point - Salem County
21. Elizabeth City - Union County
22. Orange/West Orange/Montclair - Essex County
23. Jersey City Central - Hudson County
24. Perth Amboy City - Middlesex County
25. Lindenwold/Clementon - Camden County
26. Plainfield City - Union County
27. Pleasantville/Absecon - Atlantic County
28. Red Bank Borough - Monmouth County
29. Lakewood North - Ocean County
30. Jersey City North - Hudson County
31. Woodbine Borough - Cape May County
32. Long Branch City - Monmouth County
33. Millville/Commercial Twp - Cumberland County
34. Prospect Park/Haledon/Hawthorne - Passaic County
35. Keansburg Borough - Monmouth County
36. Paulsboro Borough - Gloucester County
37. Lakewood South - Ocean County
38. North Bergen/West New York/Guttenberg - Hudson County
39. Fairview Borough - Bergen County
40. Egg Harbor City - Atlantic County
41. Burlington City - Burlington County
42. Linden/Roselle - Union County
43. Vineland City - Cumberland County
44. Phillipsburg Town - Warren County
45. Bayonne City - Hudson County
46. Dover Town - Morris County
47. Bound Brook Borough - Somerset County
48. Union City - Hudson County
49. High Bridge Borough - Hunterdon County
50. Montague Township - Sussex County
More details on each food desert community can be found here.
How can food retailers apply for FRIDG?
In the coming months, food retailers will be able to apply for the $2.5 million Food Retail Innovation Delivery Grant, appropriated through the Fiscal Year 2022 state budget, which is aligned with Gov. Phil Murphy’s commitment to combating food insecurity.
These grants up to $250,000 for food retailers that are authorized to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits or food stamps for online orders, to be able to purchase self-contained, temperature-controlled lockers, Apple explained.
Think of an Amazon locker where a package is securely delivered to a centralized location waiting for someone to pick it up. Apple said it’s like that except these lockers will be for grocery deliveries.
“The idea here is that we can leverage these supermarket and grocery stores that may not be within a food desert community, but have the ability to make deliveries into those communities, to be able to increase access to residents of those communities without having to take multiple buses or a taxi at their own expense,” Apple said.
Instead, residents can have their groceries delivered to a centralized location within their community, thereby increasing their accessibility to food and orders online.
What are the eligibility requirements?
To be eligible, food retailers must be authorized to accept online orders paid with SNAP benefits. This was a pilot started by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Retailers need to be able to accept SNAP online so that food desert community residents who are using these benefits can access and order groceries to these lockers, in the same way, someone else could with a credit card.
Retailers must also be in good standing with sister agencies within the state including Taxation, Workforce Development, and Environmental Protection, as well as committing to placing these self-contained lockers within a food desert community, Apple said.
Currently, New Jersey SNAP recipients can purchase groceries online from 16 retailers, but many food desert community residents remain unable to receive groceries as they lack a reliable delivery location due to unpredictable work schedules, family obligations or housing insecurity.
Once the application window is open in the coming months, it will remain open for 18 months from the start date or until the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first, Apple said.
Retailers can find the application here. They must submit an application detailing their plan to purchase these lockers before actually buying one.
Incentives are built into the program to co-locate these lockers with a community-based or social-service organization such as a food pantry, a soup kitchen, a community center, or a library where people are already accessing the services that they need, Apple said.
While the NJEDA has seen refrigerated lockers being adopted in other states, she said they don’t know of another state that’s doing a program to specifically incentivize retailers to use this model.
“It will be new for this state and something we’re really excited to pilot and potentially adopt and see how this makes an impact on increasing accessibility to food desert community residents while helping retailers transition to this new business model of e-commerce and what that means for shifting away from in-person in-store shopping and toward more e-commerce and online shopping,” Apple said.