Hogsett pledges 25-year plan to fight food insecurity, hunger in Indianapolis

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Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett on Wednesday pledged to put forward a 25-year plan to address food insecurity in the city,  and announced short-term steps to increase access to food for people in disinvested areas.

Hogsett outlined plans to tackle food insecurity in his state of the city address, stating that he would soon submit to the Indianapolis City-County Council a “significant investment for programming.”

“If we are capable of planning and investing in long-term strategies for our downtown, we must make the same commitment to other compelling issues that affect our under-appreciated neighborhoods,” Hogsett said.

The federal government says that about 175,000 people in Indianapolis—or about 20% of the population—face food insecurity, meaning that they have limited or uncertain access to adequate food.

The Hogsett administration’s short-term steps involve a variety of programs, including the possible development of a mobile grocery store and a new app to connect residents with resources. Those efforts could total $400,000 according to Paul Babcock, the city’s public health and safety director.

The city is currently developing plans for the first mobile market, which is modeled after a similar program in Milwaukee. The market will accept credit cards, debit cards and EBT, and will travel to low-income neighborhoods where grocery stores are hard to find.

In Milwaukee, the Fresh Picks Mobile Market bills itself as a “grocery store on wheels,” which makes two stops daily in neighborhoods throughout the city. It works through a partnership with local grocer Pick ’n Save foods, which stocks the market with more than 40 seasonal fruits and veggies, dairy items, and meat. 

Indianapolis also plans to launch a “food compass” app, which comes after two years of development led by the Office of Public Health and Safety and the Indy Hunger Network.

The app will allow people to find nearby food pantries, events for nutrition assistance, and a way to find out whether they are eligible for nutrition assistance.

Hogsett’s team will also launch a “neighborhood food champions” program, which will “identify and uplift residents engaged in addressing limited food access in their neighborhoods. 

The program was piloted in 2017 with the Indy Food Council and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It will provide 12-week training for 10 people to learn topics including advocacy, food systems, and community organizing.

Those advocates could eventually lead to the creation of new retail food businesses designed to lessen food insecurity.

Indianapolis is also partnering with ride-sharing company Lyft to provide subsidized Lyft rides to the Sunnyside Kroger, Walmart Neighborhood Market #5406 and the Carniceria Guanajuato for 500 families between 46th Street to 38th Street and Franklin Road to German Church Road. 

Hogsett said the 25-year plan would be submitted with this year’s budget this fall.

That plan will provide annual funding for food access “and other neighborhood investments,” Hogsett said. 

“In this way, we can ensure programming which benefits our struggling neighborhoods will be secured for decades to come,” he said.

Council President Vop Osili told IBJ he is “very, very excited” about the potential of a long-term plan to address food insecurity.

“Knowing that food insecurity has a powerful hold on a number of our neighbors, we will embrace initiatives that address that sustainably,” Osili said of his fellow council members. “Historically, we do things a year at a time. This is a giant step to say we will look at something … with a commitment of 25 years.”

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