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Surviving In A Food Desert

August 18, 2014, 10:15 PM by Sammi Bjelland

Surviving In A Food Desert
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

Over 50 million Americans face hunger every day. It's a problem that hits close to home here in KELOLAND.

While many people facing hunger struggle financially, there are those who simply don't have access to healthy food.

When you think of a desert, you might think of barren land with few resources. But a food desert is a little different.  The USDA defines a food desert as rural towns or urban neighborhoods without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.

It's a problem all across the U.S., and here in South Dakota.

"The impact that it really has when we talk about food deserts isn't for the average person like you or I. It's really about more of those individuals that are struggling to make ends-meet. Or maybe don't really have that dependable transportation," Feeding South Dakota Executive Director Matt Gassen said.

If you take a look at the Department of Agriculture's map, you can see several parts of the state are designated food deserts. There are even some in larger cities, like Sioux Falls.

"In metropolitan areas, it's a different distance than say a rural. In a rural area, it's greater than 10 miles. So even within metropolitan areas, you're going to have areas that are considered food deserts because somebody's going to live in a neighborhood that puts them more than a mile away from a grocery store," Gassen said. 

And for people without transportation, or with disabilities, it can be a challenge to go even a mile.

"My wheelchair is not really hearty. So with dips in the sidewalks, and crossing busy streets, sometimes I get a little nervous," Kendra Gottsleben said. 

Kendra Gottsleben has worked hard to gain her independence. She works as the social media coordinator for the Center for Disabilities and has even written a book. Her physical disorder is called MPS Type 6, which limits her mobility.

She says getting to and from her job is hard, and getting to the grocery store and back is also a big challenge.

"You don't want to be going to the grocery store a bunch of times during the week. So putting it all on your chair, and I do put things on the back of my chair a little bit, but still.  You're not going to put milk; that's going to weigh things down. But yeah, it can be a little cumbersome at times like that," Gottsleben said.

Luckily for Gottsleben, she has close family in the area to help get her where she needs to go. But not everyone is as fortunate.

Gassen says many people tend to make easier, less healthy choices when they don't have a way to get to a grocery store.

"They're more apt to then have to do their shopping locally or more conveniently to where they live. And that may be a convenience store that there again, doesn't have all of the products that we're going to see in a grocery store. They're not going to have the same access to fresh fruits and vegetables and the healthier products. So it's going to create some real issues," Gassen said. 

Those convenience stores and restaurants can also get expensive for people especially with low-incomes. 

Feeding South Dakota is already reaching several food deserts with its mobile food bank program based in Pierre. And they are always looking to expand and reach more people in need of good, healthy food.

"This pilot grant program that we've got, we see this program being extremely successful. It's a program that we need to replicate both in our Rapid City and our Sioux Falls location so then we can take that mobile distribution out to more of those rural communities and more of those areas where there are food deserts," Gassen said. 

Gottsleben says her best advice for others in her situation is to find as much help as possible.

"Try to find those support people to create a good support system. And have them help you reach that," Gottsleben said.

The USDA, Health and Human Services, and Treasury Department will give funding to projects that help establish healthy food suppliers in designated food deserts.

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