Public Officials, Concerned Citizens Brainstorm Solutions To Food Desert

Alpha Media Ryan Piers

Local leaders met with Peoria residents affected by two Kroger locations shutting down at the South Side Mission on Friday.

Mary Hayes, 68, lived near one Kroger. She voiced her concerns, explaining she is without a car and is unable to walk to another location to buy fresh produce.

“It’s just devastating to me because I have no way of getting groceries,” Hayes said. “What if I run out of something? I have no place to go.”

Hayes said her church leader’s wife volunteered to drive her to Bartonville, now her nearest grocery store.

According to Congresswoman Cheri Bustos office, a food desert stretches from the Peoria Public Zoo to the airport in the River City without the Kroger locations on Wisconsin Ave. and Harmon Highway.

Hayes said it would take multiple bus trips to reach the Sheridan Village location.

“We can’t buy big things. We have little carts we carry on buses and we can’t carry a gallon of milk or laundry detergent,” Hayes explained.

And when the temperatures dip below freezing, it’s even more of a challenge to venture across the city to buy groceries.

“If I had not stored food in my house and in my pantry, I would not have anything to eat… it’s life threatening,” Hayes said.

She took copious notes, marking down “36 points” during the discussion.

Peoria city leaders, college researchers, local politicians, nonprofit workers and concerned citizens were at the lengthy meeting headed by state senator Dave Koehler (D-46).

Kohler fielded ideas from almost everyone in the room, suggestions on how residents can access affordable food following the closures.

“We are trying to take in everybody’s ideas….seeing what to do next,” Koehler suggested.

A possible, temporary solution; a co-op program with community members and non-profits providing fresh produce.

“It’s not a quick process, but we need to begin the discussion now…Not going to turn around in two weeks,” Koehler said.

Executive Director at the South Side Mission, Craig Williams, mentioned the two Kroger locations donated food to his nonprofit.

He expects that to continue with other locations stepping up. But worries about his many clients that are without vehicles.

I see a lot of people coming back and forth,” he says talking about local resident heading to Kroger. “I see them walking up and coming from Kroger and getting their carts and I believe that it is a true statement of how they will be affected.”

He hopes donors will step forward in the time of need.

Peoria City Councilwoman Denise Moore was encouraged by the high turnout at the meeting.

She worries convenience stores, which still canvass Peoria, won’t provide healthy produce or other necessities.

“A lot of these stores are providing one-stop shops for greeting cards, laundry deteregent. We nee to bring those back and bring an option for these communities,” Moore said.

Kroger leadership says the both locations were closed down because they wern’t turning a profit. Moore questions whether that’s true about the Harmon Highway, claiming the store had consistent clientel.

Hayes isn’t worried about why the Kroger location closed. She just needs an alternative place to shop.

“I have lived in Peoria since 1998 and this is the biggest crisis I’ve endured,” she said.

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