A new city health department program announced today aims to tackle the longtime problem of Baltimore neighborhoods that lack supermarkets in a novel way -- by bringing fresh produce and healthy supermarket fare to residents through a free delivery system that operates with the click of a mouse from the library.
The Virtual Supermarket Project offers library laptops where residents can order groceries online from Santoni's Super Market in Highlandtown and pick them up at the Orleans Street library the next day. The program offers a second location at the Washington Village library in West Baltimore, another neighborhood the health department calls a "food desert" for its scarcity of grocery stores and healthy food options.
"We know in communities around this library and in Washington Village resident must choose between shopping at corner stores that lack fresh produce or pay a premium for a ride outside their neighborhood and we know this is not a fair choice," said Olivia D. Farrow, Baltimore's interim health commissioner. "Most city residents enjoy access to full service, competitively priced grocery stores. The residents of East Baltimore and Washington Village deserve no less."
In the neighborhood surrounding the Orleans Street library, healthy food is a luxury. There's a Burger King and a cluster of corner stores and carryouts, but not a single supermarket within walking distance. It's no wonder, say health officials, that the neighborhood has one of the highest mortality rates in the city with alarmingly high rates of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.