Regardless of enhancements, a whole lot of northeast Michigans are struggling to entry wholesome meals | Information, sports activities, jobs
ALPENA – More people in northeast Michigan have easy access to groceries than in previous years, but hundreds of households are still struggling to get to a grocery store.
In 2019, compared to 2015, 56 households in northeast Michigan lived far from a supermarket and had no access to a vehicle to get them there, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas.
The reasons for the improvement weren’t immediately clear, although USDA data suggests revenue has increased in some parts of the region.
Despite the improvement over the previous map, in 2019, 370 households in northeast Michigan were still living at least half a mile from a supermarket and without access to a vehicle, according to the USDA.
In particular, since the 2020 closure of Neiman’s Family Market on the south side of Alpena, the closure of other grocery stores in the area, and the Thunder Bay Transportation Authority’s restricted services during the coronavirus pandemic, some residents have reported having difficulty accessing to get healthy foods.
Alpena resident Kay Verdi said she lived near the mall where Neiman closed in September and the store closure made grocery shopping difficult.
“I’m not driving, so I either have to rely on places I can walk to or on call diversion,” she said, referring to the traffic authority’s standby bus. “I can no longer reach anything on foot, and there is no place nearby even by bus.”
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Desserts in Northeast Michigan
FOUR FOOD DESERVES
The USDA map shows four so-called “food deserts” – low-income areas of the US Census Bureau where at least a third of the population lives at least half a mile from a supermarket – in northeast Michigan:
∫ In a northeastern borough of Presque Isle County, stretching from Rogers City down to Pulawski Township, 29 households – 16 fewer than in 2015 – had no vehicle access and lived at least half a mile from the nearest supermarket.
∫ In an area that spans all of western Alpena County and much of the southern part of the county, 77 households – five fewer than in 2015 – fit this definition.
∫ In much of the eastern Alpena area, stretching from Chisholm Street to Misery Bay Road, 111 households – 49 fewer than in 2015 – had difficulty accessing food.
∫ And in the western Alpena area, from Chisholm to Bagley Street, 50 households lived without access at least 800 meters from the nearest supermarket, just as in 2015.
A wasteland of food disappeared between the two cards.
In 2015, the USDA declared that an area southwest of Alpena that extends west along the M-32 to Indian Reserve Road and south to Wilson Township is considered a food wasteland. Not so in 2019 – despite the fact that 14 other households in the area had no access to vehicles and lived far from a supermarket – as the area’s overall income improved, according to the USDA.
‘A PAIN IN THE BUTTERFLY’
Sanborn Township Supervisor Ken Gauthier said Mr. Ed’s IGA in Ossineke was closed about three years ago after fuel tanks leaked there. A Family Dollar nearby has something to eat, but nothing like the full-fledged grocery store the village once had.
Gauthier said the nearest grocery store was Neimans.
Now it’s Save A Lot, another two miles north of Neiman’s old town, or Meijer, two and a half miles further.
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“They closed Neiman’s in town and that was our alternative,” he said. “It’s not far to walk around town, but it’s a pain in the ass.”
Especially for the 370 households in northeast Michigan who are far from a supermarket and have no access to a vehicle.
“It is certainly important to be within walking distance of groceries because not everyone will have a car and not everyone will have access to transportation,” said Adam Poll, President and CEO of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. “Apart from that, the city of Alpena has been very supportive of the Thunder Bay Transportation Authority.”
However, given the low passenger numbers during the government-ordered shutdowns last year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the traffic authority reduced its weekday times and suspended weekend duty.
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While weekday hours have returned to normal, officials said they don’t expect weekend shifts to return anytime soon. And although officials have asked for grants to improve the service in Alcona and Montmorency counties, the agency does not make regular trips to these locations.
Still, Northeast Michigan has seen some positive signs.
Male’s grocery store reopened on Long Rapids Road in Alpena in 2020, for example after being closed for four years. And an Aldi could open on the M-32, although that would be close to the existing Meijer and Walmart supermarkets.
Mike Mahler, director of economic development for the Alpena Chamber, said he doesn’t know whether this shop will bear fruit or not.
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