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WATCH NOW: Many in America are still hungry, but federal legislation could help combat the problems
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WATCH NOW: Many in America are still hungry, but federal legislation could help combat the problems

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Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, talks about how food insecurity in the United States is still a problem after the pandemic. He was visiting Richmond, Va., where he joined officials during a press conference at The Market @25. Video by Alexa Welch Edlund/Times-Dispatch

People are hungry and facing different levels of food insecurity in the Richmond region and across the country, and a Virginia congressman hopes to help change that.

“My legislation would create incentives for companies and nonprofits to help build, improve, operate grocery stores, farmers markets and food banks in underserved areas that have limited access to fresh foods,” U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, said Thursday during a news conference to promote his legislation.

The proposed Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would allow nonprofits and other businesses such as grocery stores and food banks to qualify for tax credit or grant money for servicing communities facing food insecurity. The legislation was introduced in February by McEachin and Rep. Tim Ryan from Ohio.

More access to food is a necessity, said Joel Berg, the CEO of Hunger Free America, a nonprofit dedicated to helping solve the food insecurity crisis.

“Here in Virginia, according to research by Hunger Free America, before the pandemic, one in 10 Virginians, one in eight Virginia kids, one in 12 Virginia working people and one in 20 of Virginia’s seniors couldn’t afford enough food,” Berg said during the news conference, held at The Market @ 25th in Church Hill.

This year, many more Virginians are facing hunger and dealing with more food insecurity, Berg said. “Just one seven-day period in June, according to the Census Bureau, 501,000 Virginians didn’t have enough food,” he said. Virginia has a population of about 8.6 million people.

“Individuals who experience food insecurity face limited or uncertain availability to nutritionally adequate choices,” McEachin said. “That includes disrupted meal intakes, decreased food quality, and uncertainty regarding where the next meal is going to come from.”

His proposed legislation would help Americans living in food deserts — areas where individuals have to drive more than a mile to a grocery store in an urban area or 10 miles in a rural area — as well as those facing other challenges surrounding access to higher quality food options and produce, McEachin said.

Having access to high quality food is an essential part to the legislation, he said.

“Over the last 35 years, the cost of healthy food options, including fruits and vegetables, has increased nearly twice as fast as unhealthy options like sodas and other sugary drinks,” McEachin said.

The Market @ 25th, a 25,000-square-foot grocery store at Nine Mile Road and North 25th Street, opened two years ago in what had been a food desert. The store has served as an oasis of access to fresh food, said Norm Gold, the store’s developer and operator.

“Our primary goal is to make affordable, accessible produce, fresh fruit, fresh food to those in need and making it easily accessible,” Gold said. “We know that much more external support is really needed for us to truly make a difference and really make a difference in the generational habits.”

This summer, Berg is traveling across the country, going to 20 different states to spread the word that people in America are still hungry, but legislation like McEachin’s could help combat those problems.

“Just in the last few weeks, I’ve been in rural white areas, suburban areas, urban areas with mostly people of color, and we see that this is a problem everywhere,” Berg said. “Problems in Southwest Virginia and rural areas around Roanoke are actually very similar to the problems in rural Maine.”

Also attending the news conference were state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond,; Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond; Richmond City Council President Cynthia Newbille; and Doug Pick, the president and CEO of Feed More, the Richmond-based hunger relief agency that operates Virginia’s largest food bank.

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