Providing emergency food assistance and increasing access to food across the Metro Region
By Charles Sterne, Director of Homelessness at United Way of Greater Atlanta, and Lauren Wood, MARTA Market Director for Community Farmers Markets Food insecurity, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. In Georgia, according to Feeding America, 12% of the population was considered food insecure in 2019 and that number rose significantly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, including a 58% increase in food insecurity for children. During the heart of the pandemic, United Way of Greater Atlanta partnered with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to invest significant funds in agencies that were providing emergency food assistance and increasing access to food across the Metro Region. Now that we are no longer on the emergent side of the pandemic, United Way is continuing to focus on ways to improve access to food through investments in Economic Stability through our Basic Needs and Equitable Access pathway. In our most recent 2022 Child Well-Being Request for Proposals, we invested in agencies that are increasing access to healthy and affordable food in communities with low to very low Child Well Being. These are communities that are also often considered “food deserts”, meaning there is a lack of affordable and nutritious food that is easily accessible to residents. Community Farmers Markets (CFM), one of our newest grantees, has taken a creative and collaborative approach to food access through its MARTA Markets program, which sells local produce at transit stations in partnership with MARTA. According to Lauren Wood, MARTA Market Director for CFM, these markets “have become a vital community resource, providing over 250,000 pounds of fresh food to more than 180,000 customers” since their inception in 2015. These markets not only provide access to healthy food in convenient locations, but they also double the value of SNAP/EBT benefits for low-income individuals and families. In this way, the markets are not only contributing to customers’ health through provision of fresh fruits and vegetables, but they are also addressing financial stability for families by helping increase the value of public benefits. MARTA Markets has expanded into DeKalb County this year, and Ms. Wood said that “the United Way of Greater Atlanta funding will allow us to complete a new kiosk at Kensington Station, which is slated to open in August. Between Kensington and the recently opened location at the Doraville station, we anticipate increasing fresh food access for more than 2,500 people in those communities by the end of 2023.” We at United Way are proud to partner with Community Farmers Markets in these efforts that will help create a more food secure Atlanta region. We hope you will take the time to visit one of their 6—soon to be 7—locations this summer for some fresh, affordable and local food.