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Great Health Divide: How lack of transportation can contribute to food insecurity in rural areas

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 11:12 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - One in eight people face food insecurity in the United States, but that number is far larger in Central Louisiana. The Food Bank of Central Louisiana estimates about one in six in Central Louisiana experience food insecurity.

“Almost 70,000 people in our 11 parish service area are food insecure,” Linda Hutson, Director of Development & Community Relations at the Food Bank of Central Louisiana said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that they never have food, but it may mean they don’t have enough food for their next meal or they don’t know if they can feed their entire family.”

During the pandemic, the need for food increased and the local food bank worked nonstop to meet that need. However, one challenge was meeting the needs of those in rural communities.

“In the Alexandria-Pineville area, there is public transportation. But, for some people, that’s not able to work for them,” Hutson said. “The majority of our service area is in rural communities where there isn’t that public transportation.”

The United States Department of Agriculture tracks food insecurity data across the nation in its Food Access Research Atlas. The Atlas uses data from the census to identify those of low income and their access to a supermarket. It found a good portion of Central Louisiana residents lives at least a mile away from a supermarket without access to transportation.

Hutson said transportation being a barrier was something the food bank noticed and quickly worked to address. In fact, the food bank quadrupled the number of mobile distribution sites from five to 21.

“So much of our service area is in what they consider food deserts. They don’t have a place to shop within a certain mile radius from where they live.”

She said the mobile distribution sites are helping fill in the gaps by meeting under-served communities directly where they are - eliminating some of the transportation barriers.

Local businesses are also combating food insecurity in rural Louisiana. In June, Dollar General opened a store selling fresh fruits and vegetables in Libuse - an area people previously traveled miles to access fresh produce.

“Any food available close to them as in a farmer’s market, Dollar General or some of the really local stores can help them get healthier food options for their families,” Hutson said.

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