Harveys & Winn-Dixie closures fuel concerns over food deserts

By Ethan Calloway - Anchor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With Southeastern Grocers set to shutter 94 grocery stores, including four locations in the Jacksonville area, there are concerns that the closures will make it hard for people to find fresh food in at least one part of town.

The grocery chain, which is the parent company of Winn-Dixie and Harveys, announced the closures Thursday as part of a restructuring plan designed to allow more than 500 other locations to keep their doors open.

Shoppers who frequent the Harveys on Edgewood Avenue are taking advantage of the store's location while they still can. It will be closed for good within the next three months, potentially creating what's called a "food desert" in the area.

RELATED: Winn-Dixie parent company filing for bankruptcy, 94 stores closing

Food deserts are areas, typically located in urban communities, where there's no access to fresh produce and other staples of a healthy diet because of a lack of grocery stores and farmers' markets, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture

INTERACTIVE MAP: USDA map shows each part of Jacksonville considered a food desert

Chauvondra Taylor doesn't own a car, so she uses public transportation to get around. She was disappointed to learn the news because she, like other customers, prefers Harveys for its prices and convenient location.

"I have to go all the way up to Norman to Winn-Dixie or Walmart," said Taylor, who noted that she plans to continue shopping at her favorite Harveys until it's no longer an option.

Longtime shopper Mark Jones wasn't thrilled to find out the store is closing either.

"I've been coming here for 23 years," Jones said. "I grew up coming to the store, know some of the people in here, and now I've got to drive five miles to go get groceries now. It's just aggravating."

Frank Castillo is president and chief executive officer of Feeding Northeast Florida, a food bank that serves those in need across Jacksonville. He said the closures will be felt by thousands of people who won't have better options in the 32254 ZIP code.

"It is going to affect over 33,000 people who are food insecure," said Castillo. "These are people who are already having to choose between having healthy food, or perhaps paying their utility bill, or paying for their medication, or whatever it might be."

Lack of access to fresh food is a serious problem that can affect people's health, Castillo said. That's why, he said, the food bank plans to step up its efforts in the area once the store closers in the hopes of filling that need.

"We are now officially a food desert," he said. "Once that particular retail store goes away, we need to think very carefully of the community. We need to think about those who are often forgotten and question how do we ensure that they don't get lost in all of the shuffle?"

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