World Food Day: Highlighting CDFIs Invested in Improving Healthy Food Access

Today, October 16th, is World Food Day. The day is organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and commemorates its founding in 1945. The theme this year is #ZeroHunger, which highlights the goal to end world hunger by 2030.

Zero hunger means working together to ensure everyone, everywhere, has access to the safe, healthy and nutritious food they need. To achieve it, we must adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, work with others, share our knowledge and be willing to help change the world – for the better.

This is a topic that hits close to home for many low-income people and families who lack access to affordable, healthy food.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS), “data from the latest census (2000), about 23.5 million people, or 8.4 percent of the U.S. population, live in low-income neighborhoods that are more than a mile from a supermarket. Low-income neighborhoods are areas where more than 40 percent of the population has income less than or equal to 200 percent of the Federal poverty threshold ($44,000 per year for a family of four in 2008).” A 2017 ERS report also found that “11.8 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2017, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.” However, that number may be higher, depending on where you live (see map above).

CDFIs across the country are working to address these issues plaguing low-income urban neighborhoods and rural communities where access to affordable, fresh and healthy foods are either non-existent or not affordable. Through the Treasury’s CDFI Fund Programs, including the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, CDFIs are working to finance businesses providing healthy food options in underserved communities. In fact, the CDFI Fund’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Impact report notes that collectively, 30 awardees have made 376 HFFI investments totaling $168.8 million–helping businesses “ranging from small greengrocers to large supermarkets serve low-income, low-access census tracts.”

A great example of this work is Capital Impact Partners’ work to launch the Michigan Good Food Fund (MGFF) in 2015 with a $3 million Financial Assistance award from the CDFI Fund and $25 million in private-sector investments. The purpose of the MGFF, which includes partnerships with partners include the Fair Food Network, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems, is to expand access to healthy food for Michigan residents, while also generating economic development, creating jobs, and strengthening Michigan’s food systems. The MGFF provides loans and grants to support projects involving every aspect of the healthy food industry, including processing, distribution, marketing, and retail.

As part of this program, Capital Impact Partners provided a $5.5 million investment for Imperial Fresh Market on the west side of Detroit. The Shina Family, a group of five brothers who immigrated to the United States from Iraq more than 30 years ago, operate 14 grocery stores throughout the Detroit metro area. Their newest store, Imperial Fresh Market, serves a primarily low-income population. Approximately 70 percent of its customers use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp program); approximately 90 percent are African American.

Customers shopping at Imperial Fresh Market in Detroit.

Finance Fund Capital Corporation (FCAP) is coalition member located in Ohio with experience helping local communities maintain access to healthy food. After the Giant Eagle on Buckeye Road in the East Side of Cleveland closed in 2017, its neighbors became concerned, as the store had been an important source of fresh food and kitchen staples.  Fortunately, a local businessman, Simon Hussain, was interested in renovating the grocery store. To assist, the Healthy Food for Ohio program, administered by FCAP, provided almost $1 million in flexible financing for the in-store equipment and interior renovation costs.  The City of Cleveland provided an additional $1 million in funding support. As a result of their financing, Simon’s Buckeye Foods Supermarket opened in August 2018.

The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) is another member of the CDFI Coalition making great strides to increase access to healthy foods. After the closure of several markets over the past decade left Avondale Meadows residents in Indianapolis making a two-mile trip to the nearest grocery store. As residents struggled to supply their families with healthy meals, the potential health risks associated with lack of access to healthy food – obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure – increased. HFFI funding helped bring Save-a-Lot, a full-service grocery store, to Avondale Meadows, which will have a long-lasting positive impact on the health of this community.

CDFIs also work to help rural communities eliminate food desserts. Rural Community Assistance Corporation’s (RCAC) Loan Fund recently provided financing to Major Market, a registered New Mexico Corporation, owned by a husband and wife, who are Zuni Tribe members. The Corporation wanted to open a deli/ convenience store near Zuni Pueblo, a town of mostly Tribal members located in rural New Mexico with about 6,300 residents and 150 miles west of Albuquerque. With grocery shopping in the community limited to traditional convenience stores, the owners saw an opportunity to provide fresh meat and produce as healthier alternatives to what was currently available.

RCAC’s Loan Fund provided a $544,000 business loan to get the project started. However, there was a long delay while the Bureau of Indian Affairs processed the guarantee. In the interim, the owners had an opportunity to purchase equipment for the store at auction, but were paying high interest rates on their credit card. Based on the prior loan approval and relationship with the borrowers, RCAC’s Loan Fund provided an additional $52,250 bridge loan to help relieve the financial pressure. As the project moves forward to construction and completion, it will contribute to Zuni Pueblo’s economic vitality.

Dozens of our CDFI Coalition members are making a big difference, working to break down food access barriers and moving us, as a country, closer toward #ZeroHunger. In addition to supporting federal program resources, as well as supporting the work of CDFIs and other organizations helping tackle food insecurity, there are many ways we can all contribute to take action. Check out the World Food Day actions for ideas.