Recognizing inadequate
access to fresh food.

It’s an all too familiar scenario, staring at the refrigerator wondering what to put together for dinner. There’s hope for a revelation from the bag salad and leftover takeout. Inevitably, most people decide to go for reinforcements. Perhaps this involves going out to eat, ordering a delivery service, or making a quick trip to the grocery store. These are options and privileges that so many people have at their disposal, but people living in financially unstable positions often do not.

The lack of available food options, especially healthy ones, has spawned the term “food deserts.” This lack of access due to location and availability of affordable transportation can be a real problem — not just for meal planning on the fly, but also for acquiring food in general. When a neighborhood market closes, like Save-A-Lot did on the east end of Jefferson City this year, and no other options are available, it greatly impacts people under financial strain.

Agencies like the Samaritan Center, which provide assistance to an average of 1,000 families each month, offer supplemental food to those in need. This helps to stock their homes with shelf-stable food and fresh items when available, but the cost of fresh food and the ability of food banks to store them makes the process challenging. Thankfully, mobile pantries from The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri bring food to locations with gaps in availability, and various food pantries around town also contribute to providing food stability. Unfortunately for some, reaching these locations is a challenge due to a lack of transportation.

Imagine a single mother living on Benton Street. She takes the bus to her job, meeting it at 6:47 a.m. so she can get there on time, and she gets off the bus home at 5:27 p.m. — the last stop of the day. She was previously able to walk across the street to buy her groceries at Save-A-Lot, but since it has closed, she has to find a ride to Walmart, Gerbes, or Schulte’s as they are the closest options. Walking to any of the above is difficult for her, and getting home with groceries is even more of a strain on her body. And that’s not even taking into consideration days of harsh weather. 

When persons in poverty cannot walk to access fresh food, they often go without. Intensifying this problem in Jefferson City is the limitations of public transportation. JEFFTRAN is available and has reduced rates for persons over 60 and those with disabilities, but they shut down in the early evenings and have a 40-minute gap between stops. This makes a quick dash to the store difficult for those who do not have a personal vehicle. What can be done to help people access food? 

Ultimately, it comes down to the availability of food items and transportation. Neighborhood grocers are a vanishing breed in Central Missouri. There aren’t many neighborhood convenience stores like larger urbanized areas might have, rideshares can be cost-prohibitive, and cabs are few and far between. To alleviate food deserts in Jefferson City, continued growth is needed. Advantages for businesses to open in locations where there is a shortage of services and expanding low-cost, or even free, public transportation would help tremendously.

In the meantime, local non-profit agencies will continue to do their best to offset the gaps in food availability. Supporting charitable organizations that provide services is a wonderful way to help people in need. Jefferson City is fortunate to have several supportive agencies and generous donors who support them.