Sun. Apr 14th, 2024

Tawana, a resident of Woodhill Estates, works out every day. She makes an effort to provide her grandchildren with nutritious options but finds it challenging because there aren’t many healthy options in the nearby businesses. She does make use of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) mobile pantry, which brings fruits and vegetables to Woodhill Estates once a month. But that’s just one day. When you’re fighting to pay for your daily expenditures and get through the week, she says, it’s difficult to grab a bus to get to the closest grocery store – Simon’s Supermarket on Buckeye Road, over a mile away.

There aren’t enough reasonably priced options for healthful cuisine in my neighborhood, Woodhill Estates. (Woodhill Estates, a public housing project, is in the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Some people refer to Woodhill Estates as Morris Black or Woodhill Homes.) Like 58% of Cleveland, the area is a food desert as a result of the scarcity of inexpensive healthy food options.

For many community members, it’s challenging to find healthy choices for themselves and their families. Obesity, health problems, and chronic diseases are higher in areas without these healthy options. But nearby small stores don’t offer much healthy food, and many residents don’t know about food pantry options. Our community cries out for assistance in choosing and consuming healthier foods.

Why don’t small stores have fruits and vegetables?

Robin, who lives alone in Woodhill Estates, has difficulty obtaining fruits and vegetables from nearby businesses. The only vegetables and fruits usually available are onions and frozen vegetables, which she finds at Food Plus and at high prices, she says. She says she gets a ride to Dave’s Supermarket (a little over a mile away in Shaker Square) or her children do her shopping. Despite the community’s food desert, she exercises daily and incorporates healthy foods into her daily meals.

Dominique, also a member of the Woodhill Estates community, told me she is married and has four children. She says the absence of healthy options in the neighborhood has an impact on her and her family because she lacks a car to drive her children to locations where there are better options. Keeping healthy food on the table for her children is difficult right now, she says. Like Tawana, she typically gets fruits and vegetables from the Woodhill Estates community center during the monthly CMHA produce giveaway. She says that one day a month is how she feeds her family the majority of the fruits and veggies. She questions why local grocery stores do not stock up on fresh produce for the benefit of the neighborhood.

We went to find out.

Mount Carmel Deli, located at 11011 Mount Carmel Road just east of Woodhill Estates, does not sell any fresh or frozen produce. A store employee told The Land in late July that the store would be closing permanently in August. They do not have enough customers, he said, partly because the store has not been able to obtain a license to accept food stamps, and partly because so many people have moved out of Woodhill Estates. (Residents began to be relocated in 2022 as the housing development undergoes a multi-phase $250 million redevelopment.) When we visited the store, the shelves were sparsely filled and some food products were nearly two years expired. A 4-lb. bag of Great Value sugar was priced at $4.99 at Mt. Carmel Deli; the same bag sells for $3.12 at Walmart.

Food Plus, located at 10716 Woodland Ave. across the street from Woodhill Estates, had more selection and does accept food stamps. In the small freezer, we found a few bags of corn, spinach, and broccoli. On the store shelves, there were some canned vegetables and fruits and canned vegetable soups. We compared the price of a can of Progresso garden vegetable soup, which was $3.49 at Food Plus when we visited on July 28. On July 31, the same soup was $2.79 at Heinen’s, $2.29 at Target, and $2.18 at Walmart.

Brijesh Putel, the manager, said he used to have a lady who delivered fruits and vegetables, but she stopped due to her pregnancy and never came back. Now Putel sometimes goes to another store to buy a few options to resell at the store, but he worries about the food going bad so he doesn’t stock much. Because a lot of Woodhill Estates is closed, he said, he doesn’t have as many customers. When we visited on July 28, Food Plus had one orange, one head of lettuce, a couple fruit cups, half a dozen tomatoes, and a dozen onions for sale.

American Food Market, located at the corner of Woodhill and Woodland Roads, lies at the western end of Woodhill Estates. A store employee, who declined to give his name or role but was identified as “the boss” by a delivery man, said that the store gets plenty of customers who stop by when they’re passing through the busy intersection and that the closure of Woodhill Estates has not hurt the store.

American Food Mart

Sharon Holbrook

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The Land

American Food Market (also known as American Food Mart) declined to allow photographs inside the store.

The convenience store, which does accept food stamps, has no fresh fruits or vegetables, but it does sell pre-packaged fruit cups and frozen peas, corn, and mixed vegetables. It also has fresh sandwiches and a small selection of other grocery foods, including frozen chicken and frozen individual meals. When asked about selling fruits and vegetables, the employee said the store has been there for 27 years and that every 3-4 months he posts a sign on the door asking customers to request what they want the store to sell.

Residents don’t know about food bank options

The stores surrounding Woodhill Estates are not sufficient, and many residents don’t have adequate transportation to grocery stores. There are food pantries, but schedules tend to be complicated and many residents are unaware of the options. The Woodhill Estates community center could be a place to share resources about local hot meals and food pantry schedules with residents – because they can be hard to find and hard to keep track of, especially if you don’t have the internet – but I haven’t been able to access a resource list at the community center.

However, if you have a phone or internet access, there are three main ways to find food pantries near you: you can call 211 or the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and tell the operator where you live, and they will tell you, text you, or email you a list of food pantries near you. The Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland also has a map you can use to find hot meals and food pantries near you. Fruits and vegetables can still be tough to get through these sources, but there is sometimes produce in food pantry bags.

What’s next

As The Land has previously reported about the nearby Central neighborhood, corner stores and food pantries are not enough. We need much better options for healthy and affordable food.

Will shopping around the new Woodhill Homes be any better? Maybe. The development project is “not just about redeveloping housing, but about investing in complete neighborhoods,” said Matt Schmidt, director of modernization and development at CMHA. A $35 million grant to CMHA from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods program requires a focus not just on getting buildings up, but also on helping residents and neighborhoods thrive. That means working with dozens of partners, such as the city of Cleveland and Burten Bell Carr community development corporation, but especially working with residents to get their input, he said.

Schmidt said food access has come up in many conversations with residents. In the coming economic development part of the project, CMHA will collaborate with the city to make a plan to bring in partners that can address neighborhood and resident needs (such as grocery stores) that go beyond housing. If new grocery stores do come to the neighborhood, that would be years down the road.

Meanwhile, residents have to eat.

Ronnetta Stallworth was a participant in The Land’s community journalism program.


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