The Indianapolis neighborhood has to compete for a grocery store

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Indy Fresh Market planned for northeast Indianapolis Food Desert

As a child, Sabae Martin could walk only 0.2 miles from her home on Capitol Avenue to the Seven-Eleven supermarket.

Her classmates too, she remembers, with a shopping list from their mothers and change in their pockets.

At that time, in the late 1960s, there were several grocery stores in the Butler-Tarkington area. Now Martin is standing in an empty parking lot where the standard grocery used to be, directly across from the derelict building that once housed theSeven-Eleven, which later became known as the Double 8 grocery store.

“I could go to three different grocery stores,” said Martin, “that no longer exist.”

One at a time – over the decades that ushered in desegregation, redlining, and white flight – the shops closed. The seven-eleven of her childhood was closed in 2015.

Now residents and organizations from multiple neighborhoods in the Midtown area are joining forces to build a new grocery store at the intersection of Illinois Street and 38th Street. You are one of eight applicants to apply for a three-year grant of $ 2.45 million from the Anthem Foundation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Indianapolis to improve access to food.

LISC Indianapolis, which has been awarded the funds directly, will thus support the nutritional plan of the selected neighborhood. There will also be a part used for recruiting, food consultants, and the whole planning process.

One of the goals of the Midtown area:to build a grocery store just south of the former Standard Grocery on the northeast corner of 38th and Illinois Streets.

The competition is likely to be fierce: Indianapolis is facing a food access issue with 184,385 people, or nearly 20% of its populationLiving in a food wasteland, according to data from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis SAVI program for 2020. The question is also one of racial justice: Black residents make up a disproportionate share of this population at 40%.

But for the Midtown Coalition at least, funding isn’t about competing with other neighborhoods: it’s about competing against the food insecurity that plagues the entire county.

“We have been neglected for years”: Indianapolis is battling a serious food desert problem

And funding is about more than a grocery store: it’s about building a sustainable food system, from food production to transportation to disposal, said Shelbi Cummings, the social determinant of the health officer for LISC Indianapolis.

The Anthem Foundation-funded grant is LISC Indianapolis’ largest ever food access investment.

For residents of the Midtown area near 38th Street, the solution means building a completely better food system – creating a more stable process that doesn’t depend on large stores that may close their doors in the future. Local residents who depend on such businesses have been let down over the years when they suddenly close.

“The challenge for us in the food system is to build a better system that is more accessible and stable, if you will,” said Martin. “That we don’t have to worry, that they decide to pick up and go and leave us with nothing.”

LISC Indianapolis hopes the initiative will guide future policy changes for the city, which has just launched its new community nutrition and food policy department.

“Even the proposals will be a great resource for the city to strategize for its investments and make some policy changes,” said Cummings.

“It will take the whole village”

Michael McKillip, executive director of Midtown Indianapolis (left), and Danita Hoskin, president of the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association, speak on Thursday, the 27th grocery store near 38th and Illinois in Indianapolis.

The busy intersection at 38th and Illinois Streets is one of the city’s many food deserts – an area that SAVI defines as a low-income neighborhood where at least 200 people, or one-third of the population, live more than a mile from a grocery store .

In the census in which Martin grew up, this designation applies to 2,232 people according to the SAVI data from 2020. More than half of these residents are black.

Neighboring census counties also show similar data: Directly south on the other side of 38th Street, the two counties are also a food wasteland, where 4,370 people have no access to food. The majority of these residents are also black.

Even before the last grocery store, Double 8, closed in 2015, consumer demand in the region exceeded available supply by as much as $ 4.7 million annually, according to a 2015 market study for LISC Indianapolis.

The grant application is a joint effort by multiple neighborhood groups including the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association, Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association, and the Midtown Indy nonprofit.

A local entrepreneur named Synergy has expressed an interest in creating an option for a grocery store that would be known as the Midtown City Market. North United Methodist Church, a partner in this effort, would make their land available just around the corner of Illinois Street and 38th Street.

“I’m just glad we’re here together,” said Danita Hoskin, president of the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association. “Because it takes the whole village to change what is going on in our communities.”

Vacant lot northeast of 38th Street and Illinois Street owned by North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis as seen Thursday, May 27, 2021. A group of community leaders have teamed up for a three-year scholarship of US $ 2.45 million - Dollars from Anthem and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Indianapolis, which would facilitate the establishment of a grocery store on the property to improve the Midtown area's access to fresh, nutritious food.

More than a store

Grant applicants need to offer more than just a grocery store and instead propose a solution for the local food system.

For Midtown Indy and the groups around 38th Street, that may mean partnering with the existing local dollar stores to offer healthier food options. It could also mean working with restaurants to provide space in their kitchens to train residents to cook healthy meals.

“Part of this scholarship opened our eyes to the gaps beyond food access to reflect on how we could create people development opportunities in food manufacturing,” said Michael McKillip, executive director of Midtown Indy. “So that members of our community can benefit from contributing to the food system rather than just being a consumer.”

Other applicants are also in areas of high need. These include the east side, the far east side, the south east side of the city which includes the Fountain Square area, west Indianapolis, the near north area, the near north west which includes areas like Riverside and the northeast corridor that runs along the east side of 38th Street runs.

The winner of the scholarship will be announced on June 29th.

Even if the Midtown group doesn’t get the grant, they find they at least have a blueprint on how to address the region’s food insecurity.

“Whether or not we are the recipient of this grant, we have a duty to ensure we address inequality in access to food,” said Hoskin. “And get rid of that and get us back on track.”

Call IndyStar reporter Amelia Pak-Harvey at 317-444-6175 or email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AmeliaPakHarvey.