Just SNAP for Fresh Produce: Kresge Keeps Up Its Fight Against Food Deserts

Go back into the annals of Kresge’s health giving, and you'll find the moment it got hip to the problem of urban "food deserts" and started funding initiatives aimed at getting fresh foods, fruits and vegetables into the kitchens of households trapped in a wasteland of bodegas and fast-food joints. 

It was 2008. Kresge’s public health grants went mostly to providing safe housing for the needy, or to providing quality medical care in underserved communities. And then it made a grant of $500K to the Healthy Children, Healthy Food, Healthy Products project, run by the Ecology Center, their first program that tackled public health from a nutrition/anti-obesity angle.

That same year, Kresge granted another $500K to the Detroit Fresh Food Access Initiative Grocery Store Attraction and Expansion program, a mission to bring get grocery stores into food desert neighborhoods around Detroit.

Related: Kresge Foundation: Grants for Public Health

Since then, Kresge has gradually edged up the amount of funding it provides for similar initiatives. In 2010, it made three grants—including another $575,000 for the Healthy Children, Healthy Food, Healthy Products program—and in 2011, it raised its support yet again, giving out $1.3 million. One million of that went to Reconnecting Eastern Market: Stronger Businesses and Healthier Customers, an initiative aimed at revitalizing Detroit’s Eastern Market, a big public market that’s been in operation since 1891.

This work continues. Earlier this month, Kresge gave a $1 million combined grant to several Michigan organizations to increase access to healthy foods for SNAP recipients earlier this month, and holding a $5 million pledge for Detroit in its hopper, so to speak, for 2015. Granted, the $5 million isn’t earmarked specifically for public health/nutrition, but given Kresge’s past interest in funding projects with that angle in the city, I think it’s safe to expect some of the projects it funds in this round to be in that area.

Kresge's funding of healthy food initiatives isn't confined to Michigan, either. Earlier this year it gave a grant to the Food Trust in Philadelphia to help it expand its Healthy Corner Store Initiative into a model national program and launch pilots in three additional cities. This is an interesting program that dates back to 2004 and recognizes that small stores must be central to any successful effort to tackle food deserts for a bunch of reasons. That basic idea has attracted lots of support, and the Food Trust founded and convenes the Healthy Corner Store Network, which now includes over 600 members across North America. 

Kresge food grants have also gone to the network's communities in California and elsewhere, and the foundation has also shown an interest in the regulatory issues around school lunch programs, as well as food issues involving seniors.

But back to that effort on SNAP recipients, which really catches our interest. Kresge has been involved for a while now in efforts that specifically encourage SNAP recipients to buy healthy foods using their benefits. Among other things, past funding has contributed to the Double Up Food Bucks fund "that matches SNAP dollars—up to $20 per market day —when shoppers swipe SNAP debit cards at participating markets throughout Michigan." 

We’ll have to wait for an official announcement before we can see exactly who’s divvying up that $1M, but we expect it to include some of those organizations Kresge already has a relationship with, since it’s well known that when Kresge finds an efficient, results-driven organization, it tends to make repeat grants.