Food deserts, areas where individuals have limited or no access to healthy and nutritious food, is among the most notable challenges facing America’s Black communities in particular.

   In recent years, the issue has come to the forefront as numerous charitable organizations, nonprofits, etc. have garnered resources, advocated for policy implemenation and launched initiatives to improve access to healthy, affordable foods in low-income neighborhoods.

   According to research cited by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, nearly 39.5 mil­lion people — roughly 12.8% of the U.S. population — were living in low-income and low-access areas. Within that demographic, an estimated 19 million people (6.2% of the U.S. population) “had limited access to a supermarket or grocery store.”

   On a local scale, thousands of Baltimore City residents suffer from food insecurity, including a good portion of children attending Baltimore City Public Schools. To combat the issue, Amerigroup Maryland— a health isnurance and healthcare provider— has teamed up with City Schools.

   As part of the collaboration effort, Gardenville Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore was recently awarded $8,000 from Amerigroup, which will enable the school to purchase two refrigeration units stocked with healthy foods that will be sustainably stored at the school for families to access.

   In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more families than ever faced food insecurity, highlighted Amerigroup’s Lori Hammond.

   “Our goals through this partnership is that Amerigroup Maryland provides the opportunity for residents to have greater access to healthy food and deal with food insecurity,” said Hammond, marketing director of Amerigroup Maryland.

   “The funds that we provided allow them (Gardenville) to purchase two refigeration units that will allow them to purchase fresh eggs, cheese and items that will be sustainable for their families to access – not only families at the school but also families within the community.”

   The partnership goes back a few years, according to Harvey Miles, the community school coordinator at Gardenville Elementary. The origin of the collaboration was when Miles reached out to Amerigroup explaining his plans of opening up a food pantry at the school to provide additional food resources for families of students.

   However, the pantry was missing a refrigeration unit, limiting the items that could be sustainably stored, such as eggs, cheese and other dairy products. As a result, many food items had to be discarded which prompted Miles to request refrigeration units.

Gardenville Elementary sits in a food desert, said Miles, which explains his intent to open a fresh food pantry for students and families.

   “We’re just forever grateful unto them (Amerigroup) for their support because the goal of course for the community school is to remove barriers that interfere with student success, as well as our relationships to their parents. We try to meet them at the level of their needs as well,” Miles said.

   “Every school’s needs are different, and for this school, food was a necessity. We have different partnerships that helped us meet that need, especially during the pandemic… so it just shows how diligent we are oin our end to try to meet the need in reference to food.”

   A partnership with the Maryland Food Bank provides donated food items to Gardenville, which is a 100 percent free-lunch school, according to Miles, meaning that the vast majority of students come from economically challenged backgrounds.

   “I think the kids and the staff get to reap the benefits of the refrigeration units and hopefully will notice the change in the quality of their meals and nutrition value as well,” Hammond said.

   The $8,000 check was presented from Amerigroup Maryland to Gardenville on April 1, 2022 in a brief event at the school which featured District 2 Councilwoman Danielle McCray, Gardenville Elementary Principal Shirely Wilson, Hammond, Miles and a few others.

   Access to nutritious food directly impacts academic performance, which can in turn affect long-term outcomes outside the classroom.

   “The end [goal] is for our students to learn, to be able to comprehend without any barriers that can be addressed hindering them from accomplishing their goals. When kids are hungry, they can learn but they can’t learn at the height of their ability,” Miles continued.

   “When we meet the needs of food to our families, it lessens other issues that may come about because of hunger and being in a food desert. And financially, we all go to the market because we have to eat, so, we’re able to reduce some of that financial stress that our families go through.”

Demetrius Dillard
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