EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio – In the basement of the East Cleveland Public Library, a movement took shape Tuesday.
Nearly 50 government and nonprofit workers and local residents came together for the first Health Improvement Partnership-Cuyahoga Consortium Supermarket Coalition meeting. Their goal: creating a community to help improve supermarket access in Cuyahoga County.
“High-quality supermarkets can absolutely thrive in low-income neighborhoods,” said Roger Sikes, meeting organizer and program manager for Cuyahoga County Board of Health’s Creating Healthy Communities program.
Yet, throughout the county, there are nearly 30 areas that are considered food deserts, according to data analyzed by Creating Healthy Communities and the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission. They defined food deserts as places where more than 30 percent of the population is at less than 200 percent of the poverty line and where the nearest grocery store with foods to ensure a healthy diet is more than one-half mile away.
“How do we get together to implement supermarkets and stabilize them in low-income neighborhoods?” Sikes asked the group assembled.
The new Supermarket Coalition, if successful, will help answer that question.
Driven by community members and local government and nonprofit employees, the coalition will work to bring new supermarkets to food deserts and to ensure that existing stores are providing healthy options for local residents.
Amazing turnout at the supermarket strategy and policy meeting today! #foodaccess#healthmattershere#supermarketaccess@GChristCLE#getinvolved@ECPLtweets@countyplanning@HealthyCLE@sustainableCLEpic.twitter.com/bntI98k2U1
— HIP Cuyahoga (@HIPCuyahoga) December 5, 2017
“We need a high-quality store right here in East Cleveland,” said Hank Smith, who lives in East Cleveland. “This is important for the residents of East Cleveland.”
While the coalition still is in its infancy, potential solutions could mimic work being done in Euclid, Bedford and Buckeye, where grocers have been enticed to enter the market by local and state grants.
“If this store is getting government funding, that does give the government and residents more teeth,” said Sikes, who suggested that accountability measures be tied to any funds given to supermarkets.
Such measures could include local hiring requirements, pay minimums and mandatory community forums, he said.
The coalition plans to establish a policy committee to identify which policies to pursue.
Tahia Herd, from the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, raised concerns about the proliferation of dollar stores in her area, which is one of the county’s food deserts.
“The area is dying,” said Herd. “This whole area is going to be nothing but substandard stores.”