MetroLink commuters in North St. Louis will soon have a link to healthy meal options, right at the Wellston and North Hanley stops. Bi-State Development and the non-profit grocery store Link Market are launching an 18-month pilot program to provide access to healthy food for transit riders and residents in two areas in North St. Louis County that do not have convenient access to grocery stores or supermarkets.
The new Link Market food kiosks will offer fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, bread, meat, cheese and other healthy household staples for sale. Meal bundles will be sold, complete with all of the ingredients and a recipe card, to make healthy meals at home.
“We are trying to make it easier for families to eat healthier, so all the ingredients you need to make the recipe are included,” said Jeremy Goss, founder and president of Link Market. “We will package it, from salt and pepper up to the protein.” Goss said costs for the meal bundles will be in the $10-$14 range.
“These kiosks have the potential to make a tremendous impact to the communities we serve, ensuring that more people have easy access to healthier foods and a healthier lifestyle,” said John Nations, president and CEO of Bi-State Development.
The Link Market food kiosk pilot program is the result of a partnership with the Bi-State Development Research Institute, a non-profit enterprise of Bi-State Development, and the Missouri Foundation for Health, which is funding the pilot program through a nearly $584,000 grant.
“By partnering with the Missouri Foundation for Health, we are able to take advantage of the region’s transit assets to provide a valuable and much-needed resource to address food insecurity,” said John Wagner, director of the Bi-State Development Research Institute.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Access Resource Atlas identifies many areas in the St. Louis region, particularly in North County, as food desert locations where there is a lack of access to fresh, healthy foods. A significant number of residents of North County live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store, and that is an even bigger issue for individuals and families who do not have access to an automobile.
“Twenty-seven percent of St. Louis County residents live in a food desert, meaning they do not have easy access to a grocery store,” said Rhonda Smythe, program officer with the Missouri Foundation for Health.
By placing the Link Market food kiosks at the North Hanley and Wellston Transit Centers, thousands of transit riders will be able to access the kiosks as part of their regular commute. The kiosks are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and will accept cash, credit or EBT payments.
Goss said Link Market is currently in discussions to participate in the food DoubleBucks program and hopes to accept them in the near future.
“When you consider all of the neighborhoods connected to our transit centers by MetroLink and MetroBus, suddenly thousands of residents and transit riders from all across the region will have access to healthier food options,” said Ray Friem, executive director of Metro Transit.
Link Market is partnering with local farmers and community gardens to offer locally sourced food grown within a 100-mile radius of St. Louis. The program has also partnered with the St. Louis Agency on Employment (SLATE) to fill full- and part-time Link Market positions, and with the St. Louis Area Foodbank, which is providing space for food storage and administrative functions, and refrigeration. The St. Louis Area Foodbank has promised that unused food will not go to waste.
The Bi-State Development Research Institute is also partnering with the University of Missouri Extension to provide nutrition education to Link Market customers and Metro transit riders. Nutrition specialists at the University of Missouri Extension will provide education sessions twice a month at the Wellston and North Hanley Transit Centers to support the food kiosk program. Customers will be able to ask questions and learn more about the importance of proper nutrition and how to incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diets while on a budget.
"This is the type of positive investment we like to see in St. Louis County,” said Hazel Erby, St. Louis County Councilwoman. “Everything we can do to provide new resources and make healthy living as convenient as possible for our residents is a real plus."
Currently, the project is working out permits with St. Louis County.