More than one million Alabamians — including a half-million children — live in areas without easy access to fresh and healthy food, due to a lack of grocery stores. That places Alabama in the top ten states in the nation, in terms of a lack of access to healthy foods.
But a group of health advocates, under the leadership of Voices for Alabama’s Children (VFAC), is working to change those statistics by creating a healthy foods access fund. The state-based program would establish a revolving-loan program that would provide financial incentives to grocers and other food retailers, to locate in communities that have low or no access to healthy foods.
“Alabamians deserve access to healthy, affordable foods wherever they live. Healthy food financing can make the difference,” wrote Melanie R. Bridgeforth, executive director of VFAC, in a guest editorial.
The fund would not only increase access to healthy foods, and thereby help to improve health, but would also create jobs and boost local economies, building on the more than 15,000 jobs and $460 million in wages already created by independent grocers in that state.
To help the public and decision makers understand the importance of establishing such a fund, VFAC is engaged in a statewide campaign that includes grassroots visits to the capital, a walking tour of underserved areas including downtown Montgomery — the heart of the capital city — to demonstrate the lack of healthy food options, and statewide education on the importance of financing healthy food opportunities.
The hard work is paying off . The Alabama Legislature approved legislation creating the act establishing the fund, and the governor signed it into law in July.