N. Charleston, tri-county leaders explore options to improve food access

VIDEO: N. Charleston, tri-county leaders explore options to improve food access

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The city of North Charleston and tri-county leaders are looking at ways to improve access to healthy food in areas most needed. For a long time, areas in the city’s South End have been considered “food deserts,” meaning they have limited access to affordable and healthy foods.

The Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments received a grant from the National Center for Mobility Management, and they are using it to improve access to food in those areas.

“Getting this grant allowed us to research the issue and kind of strategize and think of potential ways not necessarily to solve the issue because a grocery store is not locating there, but to make it easier for people to access grocery stores,” BCDCOG Mobility Coordinator John Lambert said.

As part of a three-phase project, officials asked the public for feedback on three options they are considering to address food accessibility.

The first one would be enhanced storage for CARTA buses to make it easier for people to carrying groceries. They would have a dedicated space for groceries and frozen items.

The second option would be to give people discounted ride homes from a grocery store, using ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.

The third option would establish food lockers in neighborhoods, some of which would be refrigerated. People would order their groceries online and get it delivered to food lockers within walking distance.

Lambert said feedback has been mixed, with most people choosing between the food lockers and enhanced storage for CARTA buses.

Community organizations and local stores have been filling in the gaps where healthy food options don’t exist, and they say accessibility has been a problem for a long time.

Johnathan Thrower is the co-founder of the Community Resource Center for North Charleston. The center hosts food giveaways multiple times a week, and they offer temporary help with services.

Thrower says while the three options considered are great short-term solutions, the overall goal is to have a grocery store within the community.

“I think us getting in line with modern day technology is a good thing, nevertheless nothing beats having a physical location close by where you can just drop in and get your food with little to no wait,” Thrower said. “We see a lot of people moving into the area, and we see this area growing, so we see opportunities for entrepreneurs to come in and help solve the problem.”

Despite efforts from the city to try and attract people to build grocery stores in the area, nothing has worked. City officials say they have offered free land, cash incentives, and technical assistance for grocery stores but the area has not been appealing to grocers.

“The City of North Charleston remains committed to increasing healthy food access to the residents of the south end of our city, and we are excited to be partnering with BCDCOG to explore innovative solutions to this issue,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said. “Ultimately, a traditional, full-service grocer remains our top priority, but until this goal has been achieved, all options remain on the table.”

BCDCOG officials will meet with the city and choose an option to move forward with. The next step will be to implement the option on a small scale, as part of a pilot stage.

If it is successful, officials will then seek funding to implement the project for a year.

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