JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Beginning Saturday, Northside families who struggle to find affordable, healthy food options nearby can call for a free ride to several participating grocery stores.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is offering the service as part of a year-long pilot program called “Door to Store.”
The demand for affordable, convenient grocery stores has only increased after the Publix at the Gateway Town Center closed late last year. It is currently scheduled to re-open as a Winn-Dixie on Feb. 12. But the gap leaves many in a food desert.
Neighbors like Helen White, who lives near Pearl Street, are seeing it firsthand.
"We have a lot of people in this area that don't have transportation, bus fare, and need to get to the grocery store," White said.
For one year, customers in the Northside Readiride zone can schedule curb-to-curb service up to two hours in advance.
Multiple grocery stores in the area are taking part. They include:
• Jacksonville Farmers Market - located at 1810 W Beaver St., Jacksonville, FL 32209
• Harveys Supermarket stores located at:
o 2261 Edgewood Ave. West, Jacksonville, FL 32209
o 201 West 48th, Jacksonville, FL 32208
o 777 Market St., Jacksonville, FL 32202
• Save-A-Lot grocery stores located at:
o 8000 Lem Turner Road, Jacksonville, FL 32208
o 5751 Main St. North, Jacksonville, FL 32208
• Winn-Dixie - Future location (opening Feb. 12) at 5210 Norwood Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32208
• Price Rite - 3528 Moncrief Road, Jacksonville, FL 32209
David Cawton, JTA’s communications director, said this is a convenient option for people who already use public transportation. Cawton said JTA worked with city leaders to secure grant funding for the program.
“So, why not put a program together that is positive for the neighborhood?” Cawton said. “We know some new grocery stores are going in, but in the meantime, we think it is our responsibility to see if we can help if we can.”
White hopes to see the food desert issue come to an end overall but said this is a great start for the people in her neighborhood.
"I think it's a great improvement that they would provide transportation to the needy to help us get to and from the grocery stores," White said.
The ReadiRide number is 904-515-2458. You can make a reservation by selecting the “Door to Store” option. Reservations are free. Specific return and departure times need to be made at the time of the reservation to be eligible for the complimentary rides.
Cawton said while the pilot program is currently scheduled for one year, the plan is to evaluate how things are going after six months. From there, JTA can determine if any changes need to be made.