Stronger Houston: Small neighborhood grocery store in Second Ward helps residents get access to fresh, affordable food

HOUSTON – East of downtown Houston is a neighborhood seeing big changes. This is the Little Red Box Grocery Store.

“It’s more of a business district now,” said Robert Hamlett, “it’s a plus. It’s tiny, big. And it’s a food desert.”

The U.S Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as an area without a full-service grocery store within a half-mile radius.

“It takes almost 4 hours just to do something for 20 minutes,” said Hamlett.

For Raymond Bose, it’s either the food desert or walking two miles to a nearby Kroger. It may not sound far, but Bose does not have a vehicle.

“With the health problems that I have I’ve fallen and had some problems.”

According to the USDA, 61% of Houston residents live in a food desert. Impacting more than 1.3 million people.

In a map from 2019, the USDA explains just how big of a problem food access is in certain neighborhoods— including in Second Ward, where the average income is $39,000. 94% of this neighborhood is in a food desert.

“The ‘ah-hah’ moment was where demand exists but supply does not,” said Samuel Newman, owner of the Little Red Box Grocery Store. “Where there is that mismatch, there should be a commercial bridge and that’s what we are trying to build here.”

Newman opened the store a few months ago. He’s strategic about the stock.

“I spent a number of years working for Texas’ favorite grocery, HEB,” he said. “Really studying the SNAP shopper and the WIC shopper.”

Access isn’t the only hurdle. Nicole Lander, Chief Impact Officer at the Houston Food Bank says Houston remains above the national average when it comes to food insecurity.

“There’s work to show people how you can eat healthy on a budget,” she said. “How do we incentivize those grocers that are already there, those community-based grocers to expand their offerings. To offer more healthy products.”

Lander said a potential solution would be more tax incentives and community-based food education programs.

“It’s definitely a public, private and legislative effort that needs to happen to really remove the terminology of ‘food desert.’” Lander added.

But on Harrisburg Boulevard, this little red box is a structure of change.

“I don’t pretend to say that we are solving the issue but hopefully we are solving it for one household in this neighborhood,” said Newman.

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