Columbia city council to vote on grocery delivery pilot program targeting food insecurity

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Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 7:41 PM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The City of Columbia is moving forward with plans this week for a service that aims to address food insecurity in the capital city by delivering groceries free of charge to targeted neighborhoods.

The city council will vote on the pilot program at its meeting on Tuesday night.

If approved, the pilot program could provide this service to at least 100 people, possibly more.

If the pilot is successful, the city hopes to expand it through outside grants, which could impact thousands of residents.

Ernetta Edmunds, who must drive 20 minutes to the nearest grocery store, a Piggly Wiggly, said the people in her neighborhood would benefit from this program.

“There’s a lot of rural areas out there, and people don’t have the transportation to get out and get the food and I think that would be wonderful,” she said. “It would help a lot of people.”

Edmunds said many of her neighbors are elderly and do not own cars.

“That would be a blessing to them to get groceries delivered to them,” she said. “And they don’t have to worry about where they’re going to get their next meal from, or who is going to come and take them to the grocery store, or whether do they have enough money to pay for a taxi cab or an Uber or a Lyft. So I think it’s a brilliant idea.”

Though the delivery costs would be covered for the pilot, residents would still be required to pay for their groceries, according to city documents.

To qualify, someone must live in the city of Columbia, be eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security Disability and live more than three miles from the nearest grocery store.

Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Foundation would administer the program.

The South Carolina Retail Association, Walmart, and delivery companies like Instacart and DoorDash would partner with the city through this program and provide delivery services.

The city will put forward $10,000 to get the program started and test out the concept.

The initial batch of funding will come from federal American Rescue Plan Act money.

This service would complement the efforts of local grocer Brian Thomas, who has owned and operated ‘Your Dollar Sto’ on Farrow Road for the last two years.

“I have that laser focus right now,” he said. “My focus is to help out this community.”

The store is located in the Booker Washington Heights neighborhood.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has identified several areas of food deserts in the city of Columbia, including parts of that neighborhood.

When Thomas, who grew up in this area, realized that the 29203 zip code has one of the nation’s highest rates of diabetes, he said he was even more motivated to promote healthier eating.

He also already delivers to some of his customers.

“When I have a customer every now and then, their car may break down,” Thomas said. “They may have three, four, five children so I don’t want them to be stranded without having some type of groceries for their children, for their family. So I do go out, I use my own gas, my own car.”

Thomas said he hopes to expand his delivery service to all residents of Booker Washington Heights once he is able to purchase a van, ideally by August.

If the city’s delivery pilot program gets the green light on Tuesday, the Parks and Recreation Foundation will work to hold sign-up events and registration drives for those who are eligible.

Sign-ups could begin as early as this summer, according to Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann’s office.

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