There are multiple supermarkets in Lynn and Revere, but the problem is they may not be accessible to many people in those communities.
The two cities rank in the top 10 communities in the state with the most significant grocery gap, areas where residents are underserved by available groceries and markets, according to the Massachusetts Food Trust. Revere and Lynn rank fifth and eighth respectively.
In Lynn, there are five supermarkets — Market Basket on Federal Street, Stop & Shop on Washington Street, Stop & Compare on Adams Street, Shaw’s on State Street and PriceRite on the Lynnway.
Dianne Kuzia Hills, executive director of My Brother’s Table, the Lynn-based organization that serves free meals to those in need, said for the most part, grocery stores seem to be concentrated in the southeastern part of the city, and therefore, some sections of the city are not close or within walking distance to supermarkets.
“Lynn is better than other communities for sure, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t neighborhoods and sections of the city where you can’t walk to a grocery store,” Hills said.
Hills said some people argue that there is access to bus routes, which may not be considered when discussing food deserts in communities, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.
But she said the time factor isn’t considered — think about a mother and her family getting off the bus, getting the groceries on the bus and getting settled, and then the time to put the groceries away and cook dinner. For people who might be working a couple of different jobs to make ends meet, not many have an extra four hours like that, Hills explained.
Dimple Rana, director of Healthy Community Initiatives, an arm of Revere city government, said the issue in Revere is not the lack of supermarkets, rather it’s the distance between home and store.
“We have four large supermarkets, but they’re are not easily accessible by everyone in the city,” she said.
It’s exacerbated by an MBTA rule that imposes a two grocery bag limit on the bus. For families who rely on the T, that makes it challenging buying groceries for the week, she said.
While the city has dozens of convenience stores, Rana said they lack fresh fruit and vegetables, and are not a good option.
“As a result, they have to rely on walking, taking a cab or an Uber or Lyft, but that can be expensive,” she said. “Some shoppers without transportation push their supermarket carriages as far as they can until they lock up.”
Hills said the limitation in Lynn may not always be access to supermarkets or food, but rather factors related to a person’s income, or their ability to purchase food from available grocery stores.
She said Lynn is lucky to have a fair number of grocery stores, but one issue is that people’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or a federal monthly supplement for low-income individuals to purchase nutritious food at supermarkets, are limited.
Or people may have very little left over after purchasing food to pay for other major expenses, such as rent and utilities. People have less disposable income because when rent increases, their incomes don’t keep pace, Hills said.
For those who may not be able to afford to buy food at grocery stores, Lynn has a variety of food pantries, but Hills said the food pantry network is not as robust as it used to be.
“I think it’s very challenging for families in Lynn because not only are there fewer food pantries, but that also reduces the variety of hours a food pantry is open,” Hills said. “It makes it harder (for people) to line up their lives.”
When more pantries were open, she said people would have had an option to work into their schedules three or four visits a month to different ones. Project Bread runs a food source hotline, which can tell someone where the closest food pantry is and pre-screen them for food stamps.
With fewer pantries, Hills said the process has become curtailed over the past few years. Greater Boston Food Bank has worked with the Lynn Hunger Network to develop free mobile markets. To reach neighbors in need in underserved communities, Greater Boston Food Bank delivers perishable food directly to partner sites, where it is set up on tables in Farmers Market-style.
North Shore Community College, Catholic Charities and Lynn Community Health Center all run mobile markets in Lynn.
Fran Troutman, director of community service for Catholic Charities, said the organization, which provides social services, has a mobile market on the last Saturday of the month, which typically draws 300 to 350 people.
She said they draw a lot of their clients from the Lynn Commons area — Catholic Charities is located on North Common Street — which is a lower-income area where people could use that food assistance to make it through the month.
Troutman said access to transportation is occasionally an issue, but being able to transport the food once people pick it up is the larger issue.
“For people on a small income, it’s a problem being able to pick it up and transport it home,” she said.
For some people, Troutman said carrying around the food in bags is too heavy and little carts can ease that burden. She said high school students volunteer with mobile markets and have helped walk a client home with their food. Contributing to the problem with access, as far as transportation or how far they can walk, is the people who are elderly or disabled with physical limitations.
Troutman said Catholic Charities is planning to replace their mobile market with a food pantry they hope to open in West Lynn this winter, which is aimed at being able to serve people more frequently.
But like grocery stores, people are able to access food pantries more easily in certain parts of the city. She said the pantries and mobile markets are more concentrated in the downtown area, which is good in some ways.
For instance, she said there’s a fair amount of senior housing in the area, people who struggle a little more economically and it is the hub of transportation. But the downside, she said, is there’s not something in every neighborhood, which would make it convenient for everyone.
Even the Farmers Market, an alternative option for purchasing fresh food, is in the downtown, she said.
“We like to help people advance themselves in the world, but it’s hard to move ahead when you’re hungry,” Troutman said of the Catholic Charities mission.
Daily Item reporter Thomas Grillo contributed to this report.