Youngstown residents feel hardship of food desert

residents in Youngstown, Ohio struggle with grocery shopping in the city.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Most people in the city of Youngstown live miles away from the closest grocery store.

And 20 percent, or one in five people, don’t own a car. 27 Investigates found out how hard it is for some residents to get the things they need.

Leonard Pope has three kids and no car. A trip to the grocery store is a four-hour ordeal. He waits on the bus to pick him up and he said the wait on Saturday can be longer. So, he has to change his shopping habits.

“We get the basic necessities of what we can carry. We will take a backpack or a little buggy,” Pope said.

27 Investigates reporter Amanda Smith hopped a bus at McGuffey Road and Garland Avenue on the city’s east side to see how long a shopping trip would take. Along the way she met Willie Roy Oliver. He rides the bus almost every day.

“During the week, you will find a lot of people on the bus going to the grocery store. They go to Wal-Mart and Giant Eagle,” Oliver said.

Smith hopped the bus at 11:20 a.m. At noon, she still had a half hour to go before getting to the grocery store. It’s a trip many people have to take several times a week.

“I have to go often in order to not have to carry excessive loads of groceries, and then it is not convenient to carry all those things on the bus,” Oliver said.

Just before 1 p.m., Smith finished up her shopping quickly and waited for the bus to pick her up.

Liberty Merrill, land reuse director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, said the long trip to the grocery store is one that many people make every day. She said with 18.5 percent of Americans without a vehicle, it makes for a lot of people using other means of transportation.

“There is probably a lot more people than that who have unreliable transportation, or who are sharing vehicles with family members and don’t have rides all the time to the store,” Merrill said.

Adding to the problem is that most grocery stores are in the suburbs.

“That is unfortunately where there’s money, that is where the retail has gone over time,” Merrill said.

Back to Smith’s bus ride, it is 2 p.m. and she finally made it back to the east side where she hopped the bus. Her fresh berries are crushed, the bread is smashed and the milk in her bag isn’t nearly as cold as it should be. The trip altogether took nearly three hours.

But Oliver said the best option for most people is the bus.

“It is very inconvenient for me to have to ride the bus all the time. But it is more convenient than if there wasn’t a bus here,” Oliver said.

There are at least four empty grocery stores inside the Youngstown city limits.

27 Investigates made contact with Youngstown Mayor John McNally and City Council, but there are not any plans to bring a new store in any time soon.

To find out which grocery stores offer fresh groceries in the Youngstown area, view the map below.

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