When the grocery store comes to you: Bus delivers to South Jersey ‘ food deserts’
Virtua Health has attempted to meet the needs of communities throughout Camden and Burlington counties with a food "farmacy" and mobile farmers market, and now hopes to bring a mobile grocery store to area residents starting next month.
Through a series of partnerships, Virtua secured the use of a retrofitted NJ Transit bus for its store setup.
The health system's president and CEO, Dennis Pullin, said there is an obvious link between healthy eating and a person's overall health.
"To add this mobile grocery store as one way of addressing some of the food insecurities in the communities that are around us just seemed like a good thing to do," Pullin said.
According to Pullin, 11% of local families have reported an increase in their households' food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In so-called "food deserts" found in many urban areas, healthy options may not be readily available. If they are, they might be more expensive than the same items sold in supermarkets in suburban or more affluent areas.
Pullin said fast-food restaurants and bodegas do satisfy a basic need for supplanting hunger, but that's not enough.
"We want to be able to provide people with options of healthy foods at an affordable cost. These items would be highly subsidized," he said, and would include fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and pantry staples at below-market prices.
Another concern is getting food to those who, even if they would be able to pay for healthier fare, might not have a means of transportation to do so. So Virtua is also reaching out to community centers and houses of worship, among other places, in an effort to precisely target the areas of highest need.
For more on the new mobile endeavor, go to virtua.org.