Program Kicks Off To Alleviate 'Food Deserts' In Phoenix, Tempe And Glendale

By Steve Goldstein
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2019 - 1:32pm
Updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2019 - 2:13pm

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Blackberries, strawberries and other cartons of produce sit in a row
Claire Caulfield/KJZZ

Steve Goldstein: A new partnership is kicking off in the Valley today in an effort to help people in three specific areas get better access to healthy foods. Those places are in locations in Phoenix, Tempe and Glendale that are known as food deserts. The partners are lift food city and Valley of the Sun United Way. And with me to talk about the program is Drena Kusari, regional director for lift. Drena let's start with how you would define food deserts.

Drena Kusari: Yeah food deserts are generally low income areas that do not have close access to grocery stores, farmer's markets or other means of accessing fresh produce and healthy foods.

Goldstein: Is the Phoenix area of the Valley considered to be a place that is especially falls into the category food desert? I was wondered why you thought this would be a good spot.

Kusari: Sure yeah. Data has suggested and studies have suggested that there are a number of areas within the Phoenix metro where food deserts are present and we have identified three areas specifically that we're most concerned about. One is in south Phoenix in Tempe and then in the west side around Glendale.

Goldstein: We have some partners tell us first of all who are partnering with and how you see the logistics of that working together.

Kusari: Yes of course. So when we launched this program first in Washington D.C., we worked with a number of nonprofits and in other cities as well Atlanta and Richmond namely. In Phoenix, I was actually part of the value leadership class of 40 and so there I have had the opportunity to meet a number of civic leaders here in town. Two of my classmates were one, Ashley, is from Bashas and Food City the other, Francisco, is from United Way Valley of the Sun United Way. And together as we were thinking about bringing this to Phoenix because we had identified the data, I thought what a great opportunity to engage some of my friends but also these great civic leaders who are from relevant organizations to bring this to Phoenix and so that's how it ultimately came about how how it really started coming together. We also felt that these partners were just absolutely perfect. You know we wanted to you know from the grocery partner, we wanted it to be one where the stores were relatively close or available to some of the food deserts maybe not in the food desert. Alternatively they wouldn't have been food deserts right. But that was you know a critical component. And then of course with the Valley of the Sun United Way. You know one of their key sort of pillars is in fighting hunger. And so it just was such a natural fit.

Goldstein: So with Washington D.C. being the initial for this pilot program I understand it's been in effect for a short amount of time but when you learn something in one market how does that impact what can happen is, in essence, I guess I'm asking is one food desert kind of like another or is Phoenix so uniquely different from Washington D.C.? How do you how do you think something learned in Washington could apply here?

Kusari: One of the there's definitely similarities and differences and in Washington the program is only a few months old so we're still learning we're still trying to extract a ton of data so that again we can continue to improve and iterate on the program as we expand this across the country. One of the big differences in Phoenix I think we have two. One is the distances here are longer, one, and, two, actually I guess there's a third. The second one is that you have temperatures in the summer that are just brutal and it really makes it difficult for individuals to access and rely on public transportation and that was kind of my third one, it's that, while public transportation here is improving, it's not at the same level as it is in some of the East Coast cities of course. And so it makes this program sort of that much more needed in our territories here in Phoenix Metro.

Goldstein: As we've seen obviously Lyft is an expanding company growing across the country. How does this extra grocery access sort of fit into the overall vision for the company and what you're seeing for the future?

Kusari: Absolutely. So as a company our mission, the reason why we all show up to to work every day, is we want to improve people's lives through the world's best transportation. And so that grocery access program is part of city works, which is a Lyft initiative you know. And with transportation partners and community drivers riders local activists and city leaders to achieve maximum positive impact in the cities in North America where Lyft operates.

Goldstein: I presume this is something you want to see all across the country?

Kusari: Correct yeah. This is something that we want to see everywhere and we also want to see this become almost a standing program not just a pilot. So this program is now will run from starting today officially until September 1, but depending on you know the response from the community from our hopefully other future partners we really hope that we can continue to you know again to make this something that just everybody has access to on a on a non-stop basis.

Goldstein: Drena Kusari is regional director at Lyft thanks for coming in.

Kusari: Thank you.

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