Indiana lawmaker calls for annual summit on food deserts

St. Vincent de Paul's Boulevard Place Food Pantry, 4202 Boulevard Place, Indianapolis, is shown on Jan. 15, 2018. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as a place where at least 500 people live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.

That number bumps up to 10 miles for rural areas.

So, do you live in a food desert?

You could be living in a food desert and not realize it. There are dozens across Indiana, according to the USDA.

St. Vincent de Paul’s Boulevard Place Food Pantry, 4202 Boulevard Place, is probably the closest place Stephanie Stewart can easily get fresh food, including fruits and vegetables, for her family. Stewart, who lives within a food desert, said “They need an Aldi or Save-A-Lot or some type of store that people can get to. Otherwise, the only nearest thing is the pantries.”

Stewart and others said the closest grocery store or supermarket was more than 2 miles away.

“It’s bad,” Stewart said. “People trying to get to the store can’t get to nearby stores. The nearest ones that we had was the 7-Elevens, and they’re gone.”

The USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas on Monday afternoon listed more than 100 food deserts in Indiana. They included Boulevard Place Pantry’s service area.

Ed Turissini, a volunteer at the Boulevard Place Food Bank said “Fresh fruit and vegetables are really critical to a lot of the people who come through here.”

Republican State Sen. John Ruckelshaus said there is a supply of fresh food to be had in our state. He said it’s the distribution that’s the issue. That’s why he introduced his food access bill, to help shrink food deserts.

Ruckelshaus, who lives in Indianapolis, said, “There will be a demand that the lieutenant governor host an annual summit of all the nonprofits, like Gleaner’s Food Bank, like St. Vincent DePaul, who are doing a great job of distributing the food to come together and share best practices on how they can help their areas.”

The idea had people inside the food pantry talking Monday morning.

Turissini said about the bill from Ruckelshaus, “Oh, I think it’s great! You wind up in some of these areas….You wonder how people survive, especially older people, people without cars, people on limited incomes.”

Ruckelshaus said he believes the bill will gain widespread support because he said the bill does not ask for money from the state or the creation of a fund for this.