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where you live may determine your access to healthy food

PHOENIX — Food insecurity impacts thousands across the state of Arizona, and where you live might determine whether or not you have access to fresh, healthy food.

“Not everyone has a vehicle to get to the store,” said Veronica, a woman picking up free groceries for her 14 grandkids outside of Brunson-Lee Elementary School near 48th Street and McDowell Road.

Lack of transportation is a problem for some who live in her neighborhood, which, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, is in a food desert.

According to the USDA, a food desert is defined as an area with a poverty rate of 20% or greater, where at least 500 people, or 33% of the population, live at least a mile from the closest grocery store.

According to the city of Phoenix, there are 43 food deserts in Phoenix. That’s 42% of the Phoenix population.

“What do you do when your stomach is rumbling and you don’t have many options?” Channel Powe, Governing Board President for the Balsz Elementary School District, said.

Powe said parents and kids often stock up on gas station food at the local Circle K because it’s in walking distance.

“We know that our health disparities that we see in the Black and Latino community when it comes to high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and it’s just really troubling and it’s really sad,” Powe said.

Powe said the closest grocery store to Brunson-Lee Elementary School is a Food City, which according to Google maps is about a 16-minute walk. The next best thing is a Fry’s on 44th Street and Thomas Road, about two miles away.

“That’s a hike,” Powe said. “It is unimaginable even to think about the… hottest conditions.”

Superintendent of the Balsz Elementary School District Dr. Arleen Kennedy says 90% of their students are on free or reduced lunch programs.

According to the National Center for Education statistics, the average household income for families in the district is $43,000 a year.

That’s why when the pandemic hit, Principal of Brunson-Lee Elementary School Tracy Dunbar says they made home visits.

“We made it a point to say, ‘we’ll go and deliver you the food that you need,’ and we actually did that numerous times,” Dunbar said.

Now that kids are back in class, they’re working on a community garden, so kids can take home fresh fruit and vegetables. Through a grant, the school was also able to build a gym so students can get the physical activity they need.

“We have to stop singing the song, children first, and mean it when we say it,” Dr. Kennedy said.

Throughout the next few weeks, ABC15 will be taking a closer look at food deserts throughout Arizona and what is being done by local and state leaders to help find solutions.