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Feeding Chicago: Save-a-Lot Plants Oases in City's Food Deserts

By John DiGilio in Food on Mar 4, 2011 5:00PM

A major salvo was fired yesterday in the battle to provide access to healthy and affordable food to Chicago's most underserved neighborhoods. Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel, several alderman, civic groups, and local citizens were on hand to celebrate the grand opening of five Save-a-Lot grocery stores on the city's south side. It made for a morning of stirring speeches about the fight against blight, development in poorer neighborhoods, and, of course, the importance of having good access to good food.

If you live in a neighborhood anchored by a major grocer, it can be hard to imagine what it would be like to have to travel miles just to get basic necessities. Yet for over 600,000 Chicagoans this is a daily reality. They live in areas branded "food deserts" due to the lack of access to fresh and healthy foods. The absence of healthy dietary choices in an area has vast implications. Children cannot grow and develop, nor can communities thrive, in such places. Until today, Chicago's south side was a known food desert. With a lot of excitement and an bit of generosity, the folks at Save-a-Lot took a giant step towards changing that. Make that five giant steps.

Executives from Save-a-Lot and its parent, Supervalu, were eager to talk about their commitment to addressing Chicago's food desert problems. Five new stores opened on Thursday in some of the city's most blighted and underserved neighborhoods. Five more are planned to open in similar communities by this same time next year. It is an aggressive plan from an industry heavyweight to address one of the city's biggest challenges. The newly elected mayor, who made combating the city's food deserts part of his campaign platform was delighted to welcome this new partnership. Calling it a "win-win" situation for the city, its residents, and the store chain, Emmanuel pledged that Chicago would come at the problem of food deserts from "the top, the bottom, the right, and the left."

Representatives from the several civic and neighborhood groups were also on hand to talk about the challenges city residents face in choosing healthy alternatives. From access to education, it was all spelled out for an eager and appreciative crowd. Just days before the grand opening, Save-a-Lot sent out teams of employees to deliver free samples of some of the store's own private-label goods to residents within a quarter mile radius of each of the new stores. A generous gesture, it was outdone only by the presentation of a check for $25,000 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository on behalf of the chain. Dr. Sokoni Karanja, CEO of the Centers for New Horizons brought a cheer from the crowd as he announced that it was a "great day" for South Chicago.

The mood inside the new Save-a-Lot stores was no less festive. Shoppers were greeted by bright, well-stocked interiors and friendly staff eager to make that great first impression. These five new stores alone brought over 100 new jobs to the local neighborhoods. Modest in size, Save-a-Lot's stores focus on providing in-demand essentials such as farm-fresh produce, USDA quality meats and dairy products, baby needs, and household products. The carefully selected mix of goods is designed to deliver a 40 percent savings over traditional grocers. This commitment to high quality and low cost is just the prescription Chicago needs to tackle this problem.

The new Chicago Save-a-Lot stores can be found at:

  • 8240 S. Stoney Island Avenue

  • 148 W. 79th Street

  • 344 E. 63rd Street

  • 6858 S. Aberdeen Street

  • 6701 S. Western Avenue