St. Pete launches plan to combat 'food deserts'

Posted at 6:56 PM, May 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-04 18:57:15-04

Imagine living in a place with no grocery stores and not having any access to a car. That’s reality for hundreds of families in Tampa Bay. Now St. Petersburg is stepping in to help.

In Midtown St. Pete, it’s desperately needed.

Caroline Moody may be 97-years-young, but she’ll tell you through a hearty chuckle, that doesn’t mean she’s ready to give up her independence. “It’s a lovely thing to be healthy and on your own and do things for yourself without someone doing things for you,” she explained.

So you can imagine how heartbroken she was to see the Walmart Neighborhood Market, less than a block from her house, close it’s doors. 

“It made me sad, really sad," Moody said.

It was a place she walked to daily to get groceries.  "But I can’t do that any more. It's too far,” she explained.

It’s the second failed grocery store at 18th avenue S and 21st Street S. A Sweetbay store also closed its doors at 1794 22nd St S. The nearest market is two miles away. That was far enough to convince Moody to let her daughter drive. 

Leah McRae, in the City of St. Pete's education and community engagement department brainstormed a new solution. Starting May 13, St Pete will run a free shuttle from the closed store in Midtown Plaza to other local grocery stores. 

Initially, the shuttle will only run 4 round trips a week on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but if it’s popular they hope to expand the service not only in Midtown, but in other neighborhoods across St Pete.

Norman Diggs, who also lives in a food desert, is all for it. “I love it! Sign me up first,” he exclaimed with a laugh. 

The shuttle will run 13 weeks, and if people like it, could stick around until another store hopefully opens it’s doors. “Come on Publix, we’re waiting on you,” Diggs said with a smile.