SAN ANTONIO – A food desert is an area where you don’t have easy accessibility or availability of good-quality fresh food. This is the situation that families in the Southside Independent School District community live with.
Driving near the schools in the district you see a lot of fast-food restaurants and gas stations but no grocery stores, from the administration building, the closest H-E-B is about 17 minutes away.
KSAT 12 sat down with the districts nutrition director and a concerned mother who said the food desert in the district can lead to health problems for the families, and they also talked about how the schools are stepping in and stepping up to help their students.
Q: What are your concerns about the lack of grocery stores in your area?
“Obesity is something I don’t want for my son,” said Angie Cortez whose 10-year-old son goes to school in the district.
Cortez said she is a busy mother who really doesn’t have time every week to take trips to her closest H-E-B and get fresh fruits and vegetables.
“I’m unable to go anywhere, I can’t really quickly go to San Antonio to get fresh fruits and being diabetic this poses a huge problem,” said Cortez.
The stay-at-home mom said she tries to go a couple of times a month, but it’s never easy.
“It’s hard, it's really is hard. You wouldn’t believe it but I call people like mom -- 'Are you in town?' -- my husband -- 'Are you in town? Can you pick this up? Can you pick that up? -- because I can't go,” said Cortez.
So what happens if her family runs out of the fresh food?
“The answer will be bad food. It’ll be junk. It’ll be fast and easy,” said Cortez.
The Southside ISD nutritionist said the lack of fresh food isn’t only detrimental to the students’ health, but also their grades.
“You need your fruits and vegetables and having a well-balanced meal is going to strive a student to perform better on their test scores and their behavior,” said Janie Ramirez, Southside ISD child nutrition director.
And families like the Cortez family are asking for more availability of grocery stores, because it’s just inconvenient to have to drive that far to get the basics.
“Having access to something that’s more fresh access to something that’s healthier would benefit my family,” said Cortez.
Q: You say there has actually been backlash when the idea of a mainstream grocery store is proposed?
“Right away we are scared of taxes, we are scared of our taxes getting raised, but that’s true, it will happen. I won't deny it,” said Cortez.
But the mother who is also a diabetic said the costs would be made up elsewhere down the road by saving money on medications.
“If I have to choose I’m going to choose lets pay the extra dollar at this time because it's going to save us later on,” said Cortez.
And at the end of the day, an H-E-B or a Walmart is what a lot of families and administrators are asking for.
“I believe it would be an asset to our community,” Cortez said. “I believe it would cost a little more but in the end we would have healthier children, we would have healthier families.
Q: How is the school district helping out?
“We provide a variety of vegetable and fruits and expose them to maybe fruits and vegetables they don’t see at their homes,” said Janie Ramirez, Southside ISD child nutrition director.
Southside ISD provides breakfast, lunch and even supper free of charge for its students.
“There’s plenty of fast-food places but no H-E-B or Walmart that the residents can go to,” said Ramirez.
And it makes sure it’s food that is ideal for healthy and successful students.
“Our meals are healthy and we have to stay within a calorie range for grade level so we offer plenty of food. We are required to serve a cup of fruit and vegetable for each student,” said Ramirez.
Families said this program can be a blessing for a lot of these students.
“There are some kids where it might be the last meal of the day for them. They may not be able to go home and have a dinner, so the fact they get three full meals here, they get to go to sleep without their stomach growling,” said Cortez.