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Martinsville vice-mayor named to newly-formed state group on food insecurity

Martinsville vice-mayor named to newly-formed state group on food insecurity

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Last week, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Jewel Bronaugh named Martinsville Vice-Mayor Chad Martin to the newly-formed Virginia Food Access Investment Fund Stakeholder Workgroup.

The group will determine the guidelines of how state grant funding will be distributed to organizations that supply food to people in need.

“Martinsville deals with a food insecurity rate, which means some of our citizens don’t know where their next meal is coming from Monday through Sunday,” said Martin.

Years ago, the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service at Virginia Tech formed the Food Desert Task Force to determine areas in the state whose residents had limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

“The [Food Desert Task Force] study came out and said that we have a food desert, which means some of our citizens don’t have adequate access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” Martin said.

The task force released its findings in 2014, listing Martinsville as having the third worst rate to proper, affordable food in the state.

Martinsville’s low-income rate was third-highest, second in percentage of SNAP-eligible residents, fourth in adult obesity and second in food insecurity.

The task force recommended the state establish a cooperative arrangement for the Virginia Food System Council to serve as lead facilitator in discussions to solve issues pertaining to food deserts and food insecurity and be authorized to coordinate public and private grants to distribute funds to local organizations according to need.

This past session the Virginia General Assembly established the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund within the state treasury to provide funding for the construction, rehabilitation, equipment upgrades and expansion of grocery stores and small food retailers in under-served communities.

One of the regional groups to receive state funding is Feeding America Southwest Virginia, which serves 35 localities and as of May 2019, the organization put Martinsville, Danville and Radford at the top of their list of food-insecure communities.

Including Henry County, the overall insecurity rate for Martinsville is 14.4% and the annual food budget shortfall is over $3.5 million.

In Patrick County, the insecurity rate is 13.3% with an annual food budget shortfall of almost $1.2 million.

In the greater Southwest Virginia region one in eight residents faces hunger while one in six children suffers from poor nutrition.

More specifically, a food desert is defined as an area where populations live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store if in an urban area or more than 10 miles if in a rural area.

Although similar, food deserts and food insecurity are different. If a person is food insecure it means they are not sure where their next meal will come from or whether it will be good for them. They are more likely to eat unbalanced meals and will skip meals frequently.

Food deserts are areas where food may be plentiful but lack adequate nutritional value or maybe nutrition, but unaffordable for much of the population.

The study determined over 25% of Martinsville’s residents do not have access to affordable, nutritious food. About the same number of people are considered low income while over 33% are eligible for SNAP benefits.

Transportation is not a problem in Martinsville as it is in other localities. Private vehicles and the Piedmont Area Regional Transit bus system pushes the rate of those without access to transportation down to 2.7%.

A third of the residents of Martinsville are clinically obese while a fourth deal with food insecurity on a regular basis.

The study also noted the food deserts throughout the state typically had more convenience stores and fast-food restaurants per capita than other areas. Martinsville was listed as having four grocery stores, one superstore, nine convenience stores and 22 fast-food restaurants.

The first meeting of the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund Stakeholder Workgroup will take place virtually on Thursday morning to outline how the Commonwealth can make access to good food more equitable to everyone.

Said Martin: “Serving on this committee will put me in a position to help bridge the gap and get us some funding to solve these issues.”

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt

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