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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Mobile market initiatives tackle Atlantic City’s supermarket void

Mobile market initiatives tackle Atlantic City’s supermarket void

Publish Date: 12/09/2023
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

People in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which has a $5 billion resort relying on gambling, don’t have a supermarket. Residents must drive to stores on the mainland, use costly public transportation, or shop at expensive local stores.

The state and a hospital system have deployed a renovated school bus selling fresh food to the city. Virtua Health introduced the bus to a low-income neighborhood in Atlantic City, a component of its “Eat Well” initiative supported by funding from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

The initiative aims to provide good-quality food to economically disadvantaged areas lacking easy access to healthy options. Atlantic City is second on the list of 50 New Jersey communities identified as “food deserts” due to limited access to nutritious food.

Delorese Butley-Whaley, 62, boarded the bus to buy a half gallon of milk and a loaf of bread for $3. She usually walks or takes the bus to a nearby corner store, or in bad weather, she travels to a mainland supermarket in Absecon, which costs $10 each way and quickly eats into her food budget.

“We don’t have a real supermarket here,” she said. “This is something we all need. I love this. It’s really convenient. I was able to get everything I needed for the rest of the week right here.”

Not applying income restrictions

April Schetler, overseeing the program at Virtua Health, explained that its purpose is to address the absence of genuine supermarkets in communities like Atlantic City and Camden. All the food is priced 30 to 50 percent below typical retail prices, and there’s no income restriction. Schetler said they aim to incorporate dignity into every aspect of service by not requesting financial information.

“We come right to them, in their neighborhoods,” she said. “It can be a $25 cab ride just to get you and your groceries home.”

In November 2021, Governor Phil Murphy and other top officials had a big event to kick off the construction of a new ShopRite supermarket near the casinos, using $19 million in public funds. However, the project never started, and it fell apart. The state announced plans to seek new bids for another store earlier this year, but there has yet to be a comment from the developer, Village Super Market Inc., as of now.

To address the situation, the Virtua food bus is one of two similar initiatives funded by the state with $5.5 million. AtlanticCare, another hospital system in southern New Jersey, is introducing a mobile grocery to its food pantry program. This program includes health education and cooking classes. It also offers incentives to buy healthy foods.

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