La Salle University launched its Exploring Nutrition Program (ENP), which aims to create partnerships between urban universities and local businesses, community organizations and religious institutions, to utilize collective resources and expertise to have a positive impact on their neighborhood’s health and nutritional well-being.
A couple of goals ENP hopes to fulfill includes wanting to meet the needs of those people in La Salle’s immediate neighborhood and to understand how some of the environmental and social aspects of the community serves as barriers to making and maintaining healthy changes to eating and weight.
For a long time, the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding La Salle University has been a “food desert.” This means an underserved community lacks access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Since 1950, food deserts have been an issue in Philadelphia. According to Nicole Apollon Chirouze, Jennifer Atlas, and Parth Rajyaguru, food deserts became a trend between the 1950s and 1970s, due to urban residents of Philadelphia moved to the suburbs. Grocery stores followed this movement, enticed by lower startup costs and higher profit margins. At the end of this suburbanization process, Philadelphia became the city with the second-lowest number of supermarkets per capita in the United States.
In La Salle’s neighborhood, the closest supermarkets have been a ShopRite located slightly over two and a half miles away from its main campus, and a Pathmark almost two miles away.
Those two supermarkets seem relatively close. However, after listening to Dr. Marjorie Allen of La Salle University’s English and Integrative Studies departments speak to a group of students, she alluded to a shocking stat: as of 2010, the average income for local residents living around La Salle was $24,000 per year.
Therefore, many people may not have had cars, thus relying on public transportation as their primary travel option. One could imagine the difficulty of lugging at least a dozen grocery bags onto a city bus.
To help combat this problem, La Salle helped fund a Fresh Grocer to be built right down the street from its main campus several years ago. In addition, an Easter Food Drive was held in 2013. Nearly 80 La Salle students, faculty, and staff members collected 3,600 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables, having distributed them among 15 community partners, which helped feed more than 2,000 people.
ENP continues to work through La Salle to build strong ties with the local community to help resolve hunger issues.