Wichita to spend $1 million to add fresh produce to convenience stores, dollar stores

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·2 min read

Wichita plans to spend $1 million on a plan to install refrigerated cases in convenience and dollar stores to provide healthier food to residents who may not have access to grocery stores.

The money will come from federal pandemic relief funds.

A 2013 study by the Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita found that neighborhoods with the lowest incomes experienced the highest food prices. It also found that 44 square miles of Wichita was considered a food desert, an area with a significant number of residents more than 1 mile from a supermarket.

Calls for action on the issue grew after the 2021 closing of a Save a Lot grocery store near 13th and Grove left nearby residents without a full-service grocery store.

The new healthy corner store pilot program will be led by New Venture Advisors, a food consulting firm partnering with The Food Trust, a Philadelphia based non-profit that has advised corner store programs across the country.

They will decide the number and location of pilot stores and provide owner training. The program should start next year, though there is no specific timeline yet.

“I feel like we keep talking about it and I’m ready for some action,” City Councilmember Maggie Ballard said.

Stakeholders will be appointed to the project’s steering committee and will hold three meetings: one to share food access research, one to establish program goals and the other to identify pilot sites. It is unclear how this committee will be appointed.

“We’re not sure what expertise will be necessary, it may be a mix of council members and appointments from organizations in the community that speak to the issue ... such as the Health and Wellness Coalition,” City Manager Robert Layton said.

Donna Pearson McClish, founder of Common Ground Producers and Growers, a market that provides fresh produce to food desert and food insecurity areas, urged the council to find a way to start feeding people now.

“I’m just concerned because I see the need every day,” she said.

McClish encouraged the council to get community members involved in the steering committee and also to find current ways to help with the problem.

“Let’s develop a plan where people can start to get food in these communities while you’re doing the planning,” she said.