In Newark, Support, Leeriness of Booker’s Food Stamp Challenge

Newark officials laud work of Newark's non-profit community, food access programs

A need for change

What Booker’s actions may produce as a result of his highly publicized food stamp challenge is a greater surge in the mobilization of the Newark community to make a case for funding organizations and initiatives that support greater development opportunities for quality food-based businesses and services.

“Established places for residents to shop that have affordable prices are most important to Newark residents,” says Rhonda Lewis, executive director of the Newark Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC). “That is what the Mayor is trying to highlight. It should be commended that he is bringing attention to this issue.”

A community united

During the summer, Davis frequents the city’s farmer’s markets with his daughter. But many close during the winter months, leaving Davis and many other residents stranded with limited options for finding close, affordable, fresh produce – a challenge Davis hopes will be highlighted during the mayor’s food stamp experiment.

But many point to activists and organizations involved in the daily work of food access as the real heroes of Newark, not its telegenic, intelligible mayor.

The Greater Newark LISC has collaborated with community-based organizations in Newark and the surrounding area to improve the quality of life for residents and shopkeepers. Their most recent project has brought fresh fruits into corner bodegas — havens of unhealthy snacks, food and beverages — to entice children to pick up a banana or apple instead.

Additionally, LISC has provided both direct support and AmeriCorps placements to develop community gardens and farmer’s markets in Newark’s Ironbound district as well as several other communities.

Another Newark-based nonprofit contributing to the work of bringing healthy and affordable foods to residents is The Greater Newark Conservancy. They’ve partnered with the city’s Office of Re-entry, training ex-offenders in agricultural development and using their skills to farm open land in the city. These acquired skills then turn into full-time job placements.

And earlier this year, Newark’s Central Ward neighborhood welcomed with open arms its first full-scale supermarket in 22 years. The 31,000 square foot Food Depot is the result of financial incentives and tax breaks provided through Brick City Development Corp.’s Supermarket Initiative. Now, many of Newark’s Central Ward residents can access quality food within walking distance from their homes — no buses, expensive cab rides or vehicles needed.

The race to providing access to healthy and affordable food options in the city of Newark is a responsibility the community is tackling one step at a time — and will continue to do post-food stamp challenge frenzy.

Says Lewis, “It’s up to us as a community to provide access to affordable and healthy food for residents. The question [we have to solve] is how we plan to bring these options to the table where the ordinary residents of Newark can take part in them.”

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