The City of Riviera Beach has partnered with Palm Beach Harvest Food Bank to address food insecurity. People living in disadvantaged areas will have access to fresh produce for the next eight weeks and the free program might be the fuel that sparks a long-term project.
Douglas Lawson, a Riviera Beach councilperson, says if there is one silver lining of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s the broader focus on food deserts in Riviera Beach and the need to “attract” business opportunities in the community.
“Our goal was to address this pandemic and to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to our community,” Lawson said. “But when we saw the opportunity to partner with them on a longer basis, we're trying to expand it a little deeper.”
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Lawson says the first drive-through started last Thursday, April 30, and attracted 400 cars. He estimates hundreds more will take advantage of the program. Many South Florida residents are priced out of healthy food options. Factors like access to a car, low-income levels, proximity to food markets, have contributed to the lack of access to nutritious food in communities across the country, according to research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Elvin Dowling, the chairman of Palm Beach Harvest Food Bank, and executive director Deborah Morgan, reached out to Lawson about the free produce partnership. The food bank is working with local farmers to help distribute rescued food every Tuesday and Friday at the Wells Recreation Center in Riviera Beach.
Lawson says Black residents of Riviera Beach are disproportionately affected by food deserts, but food swamps — the over exposure to convenience stores, fast food, and other junk food options — have also led to greater risk of obesity and other ailments in the community.
The councilperson says it’s going to take “one village” — county, state, and federal efforts — to create a mix of strategies that will address the region's limited access to healthy, affordable food. He says those efforts should also encourage better eating habits and business opportunities.
“We have a 65 percent black population, 83 percent minority. We have to have access to the fresh fruits and vegetables that are going to actually sustain the health and wellness of our community,” Lawson said.
“So that is going to be our initiative and a mission that we're gonna be pushing when it comes to budgeting time — to allocate funds for the actual desert that we need to address here, in this community.”