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Hybrid supermarket-pantry to rise in Chester ‘food desert’

By Tom MacDonald
NewsWorks Powered by WHYY

An $800 thousand donation is designed to jump-start fundraising for a new kind of grocery store in Chester. It’s the latest attempt to give residents of the poor city a place to buy food other than corner and convenience stores.

The grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy dedicated to improving health, is designed to help fund a nonprofit supermarket run by Philabundance.

Maryann Lynch of Philabundance says the goal is to help people who are food insecure, meaning they don’t have enough money to buy healthy food.

“We will have items for sale and we will leverage those items at the best price possible based on how we are able to buy items,” Lynch said. “And we will also have bonus items where people can really extend their purchasing power by obtaining bonus items each week.

“When we have items available for donation, we will be able to give those out at the same time depending on what it is,” she said

Lynch said the hybrid will be a cross between a food pantry and a grocery store … catering to all Chester residents.

There hasn’t been a supermarket within the city limits of Chester for more than a decade. Mayor Wendell Butler said residents were hoping for a conventional market, but the hybrid will help people eat better.

“It’s just like first lady Michelle Obama said–we need to start eating healthier and exercise and all those type of things for better living,” Butler said.

Fred Mann of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said the donation from the New Jersey based-philanthropy is part of a strategy to help those in need. Philabundance, the Philadelphia region’s largest hunger relief organization, was one of several groups chosen to help come up with solutions, Mann said.

“We liked what they were outlining, what they were hoping to do with the food center,” Mann said. “We knew them by reputation as a very strong organization that could create this new model that addresses the food-access problems.”

The project will cost $4.5 million. Just over half the money has been raised, and officials hope this major donation will spur fund-raising so the hybrid market and food pantry can open by next summer.

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