There are plenty of food options on the south side of Delaware.
Available choices come from a plethora of fast food restaurants such as McDonalds, Wendy’s and Arby’s; and drug and dollar stores including CVS Pharmacy, Family Dollar and Walgreens that may offer pre-packaged and frozen foods.
But 33 percent of families on the south side of Delaware city are food insecure and 22 percent fall below the poverty line, according to the Delaware General Health District.
And “there’s no grocery store that has fresh foods,” said Abbey Trimble, a health educator for the district.
In 2014, the health district received a 5-year-term grant from the Ohio Department of Health for the Creating Healthy Communities program, which Trimble coordinates. There are 22 other counties in the state that received the grant, which aims to improve access to healthy food, increase opportunities for physical activity and assure tobacco-free living.
“We’re lucky we got Creating Health Communities,” said Jen Keagy, community health director for the district.
She said Delaware County does have a food problem despite being one of the state’s most affluent counties. The district now receives $95,000 each year for the Creating Healthy Communities program, which focuses on Delaware City’s south side, Oxford Township and Harlem Township.
“We have those pockets of need,” Trimble said.
The south side’s need for healthy food options are apparent after a Kroger store closed its doors at 159 S. Sandusky St. in late October 2009 despite the city’s attempts to keep the grocery store in business. The company then opened a new location seven miles south of the city on U.S. Route 23, a month later.
“We weren’t able to prevail,” said City Manager Tom Homan. “It was a disappointment.”
The city had worked aggressively with William R. Roth & Associates, the property owner of the Delaware Shopping Center, to replace the Kroger with another grocery store, Homan said. They came close to a deal a couple times, but it did not work out in the end.
There was only so much the city could do since it did not own the property, he said.
Family-owned, Strongsville-based Pat Catan’s arts and crafts chain opened at the 33,000-square-foot location in January after the owners renovated the entire building with the addition of a new roof, lighting, flooring, facade, heating and cooling.
The store now employs 16 full-and-part time employees.
The Gazette was unable to reach Kroger and Will Roth, president of William R. Roth & Associates, for comment this week. Roth told The Gazette last year that the new business would be “great for the shopping center and our other tenants since Kroger left, but this is going to be great for the city. It takes time to get the right tenant, and we believe this is the right tenant.”
Although the city is pleased to see a new business at the site, Homan said it obviously does not serve as a substitute for a grocery store.
Since Kroger departed nearly seven years ago, residents have found other alternatives, said Brad Draper.
“That doesn’t mean there’s not a gap in service,” said the director of food pantry services of Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio.
LSS opened its food pantry at 73 London Road about two years ago and saw a rapid increase to about 1,200 visits each month.
“We have not slow down since,” Draper said. “There’s certainly a demand.”
Of the 1,200 visits per month, 800 were first-time and 400 were for fresh produce, he added.
At the London Road location, pantry visitors check in and provide proof for the number of family members living with them, which determines the amount of food they can receive. A volunteer accompanies each visitor to guide them through the aisles of canned, packaged and fresh foods with a shopping cart, similar to a grocery store.
“That’s the way we want it to feel,” said Marshall “Mad Dog” Dyson, a volunteer at the pantry.
Dyson said recipients not only receive fresh produce, or “rabbit food” as he affectionately calls it, but also advice on how to make meals.
Other food pantry options include People In Need on Johnson Drive and mobile units from the Delaware County Hunger Alliance.
So far, Trimble and the Creating Healthy Communities program has carried out some projects to improve the city’s access to healthy food options. The program provided the Second Ward Community Initiative equipment to complement its already established community garden plots available to residents primarily in the ward.
Other projects Trimble has in the pipeline for the south side include:
- Implementing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps, benefits in local farmer’s markets including the one in downtown hosted by Main Street Delaware.
- Provide technical assistance and equipment to Delco Drive Thru, 317 London Road, to offer fresh produce next year.
- Now forming a group to discuss possibilities and strategies to offer a bike share program in 2017. Second Ward residents could potentially then bike to Kroger on Route 23 using an existing trail.
“That’s exciting what she’s doing,” Homan said.
There are no plans in the works to bring a grocery store to the south side, but things may change for the south side in the future, Homan said, as more people reside on the second and third floors of downtown’s buildings, which would increase the demand.
On the other hand, grocery stores are big operations and require a lot of square footage, he added. With Pat Catan’s at the former Kroger site, a new grocery store would need to find another venue.
“The challenge is to find space,” he said.
And the city’s economic development is focused on a potential new tenant to replace Buehler’s grocery store, 800 W. Central Ave., which closed in February. The building is currently in contract but the sale may not even finalize, said Sean Hughes, the city’s economic development director.
Hughes said grocers use data in their decision process to open stores and retailers in the industry usually have the data before approaching a community.
“We can’t drive a decision maker,” he said.