9 Investigates: Thousands in Charlotte struggle to find healthy food options

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stocking your fridge and putting food on the table may not be a challenge for many of you. But, thousands of families in Charlotte don't have healthy options because there's nowhere in their neighborhood to buy fruits or vegetables.

According to a map of grocery stores across Charlotte, there is an area in west Charlotte in the west Boulevard area that does not have any grocery stores.

This area is known as a "food desert."

For the people who live in the West Boulevard community, the closest grocery store with healthy foods like fruits and vegetables is 1.3 miles away.

But, many of these people like Shannon Roseboro rely on public transportation, meaning that errand can take hours.

Charlotte mom Roseboro takes the bus from her apartment off West Boulevard to the Walmart on Wilkinson Boulevard, which is the closest store that sells produce.

Roseboro said this trip can take up to four hours.

"It's what we need to survive," Roseboro said. "Fruits and vegetables are very important to our diet. It's waiting on the bus that is aggravating because when you go shopping you're ready to go home."

University of North Carolina Charlotte Professor of Public Health Sciences Beth Racine has been studying "food deserts."

"There's not many in the in the low income areas, but in the higher income areas, there's a lot," Racine said. "The big chains just don't see it in their best interest financially to operate there."

The overall health of these families, however, is impacted by being in a "food desert."

The amount of heart disease and diabetes and the people in "food deserts" die younger than those who are not.

Rickey Hall is with the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, which wants to build a co-op on the land they lease from the Charlotte Housing Authority.

"Rather than complaining about the problem, we're going to solve a long standing problem in the community," Hall said.

Unlike big chain grocery stores, a co-op is owed by its members. Members pay an ownership and vote on which items to stock and where they're purchased from such as farmers or food distributors.

"We will own it and no one can take it away from us," Hall said.

Northeast Greensboro struggled with a "food desert" for 18 years until the community built The Renaissance Community Co-Op in 2016.

General Manager Nike Sakellaridis told Anchor Allison Latos an ongoing challenge is attracting shoppers.

Customers don't have to be members to shop at the Renaissance Community Co-Op, which Sakellaridis said brings in more business. He said by being open to the entire community, the positive impact goes beyond access to fresh produce.

"By creating more jobs and making sure employees get a reasonable discount, we support the community's economic development as well," Sakellaridis said.

Community leaders hope Charlotte's co-op will open along West Boulevard by 2021 so families like Roseboro's won't struggle in a "food desert" any longer.

It will cost $8 to $10 million to build the Three Sisters Market.

Community leaders are hoping for support from the city and county. They just started a member ownership drive.

It is $100 for a one-time membership, but leaders are creating a flexible payment plan to make membership more affordable.

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