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In ‘food deserts,’ getting groceries is a struggle

Dozens of grocery stores in rural Kansas have closed since 2007, so the lines can be long when the Harvesters Rural Mobile Food Pantry comes to towns such as Osage City, Kan. Volunteers recently helped load donated food into waiting cars. The area is one of many communities that are considered "food deserts," without easy access to groceries.
Dozens of grocery stores in rural Kansas have closed since 2007, so the lines can be long when the Harvesters Rural Mobile Food Pantry comes to towns such as Osage City, Kan. Volunteers recently helped load donated food into waiting cars. The area is one of many communities that are considered "food deserts," without easy access to groceries. DAVID PULLIAM | The Kansas City Star

The modern American supermarket is a cornucopia of plenty — unless you’re one of the 11.5 million low-income people who live in a forgotten place called a “food desert.”

In simplest terms, food deserts are places where grocery items — staples as basic as a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, a bag of apples or potatoes — are not affordable or easily accessible.

Jamie Svejda of Kansas City lives in a food desert. The working mom can only buy as much food for her children, Sydnee, 10, and Xavier, 4, as she can carry home from the Price Chopper three-quarters of a mile away.

Burlingame, Kan., no longer has a grocery store, so Diane Mundy relies on a mobile food pantry and 30-mile drives to Walmart to feed her husband and three children. Mundy lives in a food desert, too.

The good news is that help may be on the way, as urban and rural communities alike test innovative grocery models. Consider: An inner-city church wants to donate its kitchen and cold storage for a market stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. A county commissioner works on a virtual grocery for his supermarket-less district. A rural high school runs the town’s only grocery store.

And what better day than today, as we celebrate the comforts of food and family, to think about how to extend the heartland’s bounty throughout the year.

Read our stories:

Closed grocery stores leave void in rural areas

In urban core, need for nearby stores is great

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