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Inner-city L.A. hungers for good grocery stores

A coalition of community, faith-based and environmental groups is trying to draw quality supermarkets to neighborhoods in East and South Central L.A., where residents have little access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 10, 2009

Los Angeles

East L.A. resident Olga Perez has to take two buses to a store about eight miles away to get fresh fruits and vegetables, or decent cuts of meat, for her family.

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"The only thing I can get at my corner store are spoiled or expired," explains Ms. Perez, a dental assistant and single mother who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with two daughters and a granddaughter.

The round trip costs her $5 and limits what she can carry home. "I can only get so much milk and when I get home the eggs are cracked and the bread is smashed," she says.

And because she works until 6:30 p.m. most nights, Perez doesn't often have the time to make the trip and get home in time to cook for her family. Her solution: "Open a can of ravioli or make hot dogs," but that sometimes keeps her daughter and granddaughter up at night, complaining of insomnia and stomach aches.

It's a situation the Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores, a city-wide coalition of 25 community, faith-based and environmental organizations, is trying to change. They formed a Blue Ribbon Commission in early 2007 to address the chronic absence of quality grocery stores in several L.A. neighborhoods including East L.A. and South Central – and are now trying to draw such stores to these underserved areas.

It's a real problem, says Cheryl Resnik, assistant professor of clinical physical therapy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, which abuts Perez's neighborhood.

Many of her students come to class either malnourished or jittery from sugar in sodas and fast food, she says.

"We were teaching them how to eat better, but then we realized they don't have access to the kind of food they need," says Ms. Resnik, who runs a free clinic. "The only thing they have are mom-and-pop liquor stores with candy bars and cupcakes."

The dearth of decent grocery stores plagues urban areas across the US including Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston – contributing to childhood obesity, say health experts, which affects a higher proportion of Hispanic and Black youth.