Lack of grocery stores in core neighbourhoods hurt Winnipeggers’ wallets
CATHERINE RYCZAK, CONTRIBUTOR
High food prices and a lack of grocery stores in downtown Winnipeg mean many of the city’s poorest families turn to charities and unhealthy food options, according to Justine Cruz.
Cruz works as the community coordinator and administrator for The Welcome Home, a community outreach centre on Euclid Avenue. She said the number of people who turn to the centre for groceries has almost doubled as food prices increase and less and less families can afford to put food on the table. She noted at least 50 people now come looking for simple grocery items each week.
“Many families struggle to make ends meet on minimum wage jobs or on social assistance and have very little money for groceries after their bills are paid,” Cruz said. “The only store in the area is Neechi Commons, and although it is a fantastic co-operative, many of their prices are high. Paying more for groceries at the smaller stores means that families have less food and need to ask for help.”
These families live in Winnipeg’s core neighbourhoods, which have no major grocery stores. The area is home to nearly 70,000 people, according to the city’s neighbourhood census, and is Winnipeg’s poorest area, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s 2014 Community Health Assessment. CBC Manitoba reported earlier this year the area is considered a food desert, because of its residents’ limited access to nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables.
Life expectancy, diabetes, heart attack and stroke rates are also higher in lower-income communities compared to higher-income neighbourhoods, according to the Community Health Assessment. This is no surprise for Michelle Stevens, a registered dietician who believes food deserts have a huge impact on health and wellness.
“If you are lower income, you may not have access to a car, and busing may be difficult and expensive,” she said, “so the only food choices close by are usually fast food. If you analyze fast food restaurants in different areas, you will see a large number usually grouped in a food desert. This can lead to many health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and children are not getting the appropriate nutrients they need.”