Baltimore City locals now have a new reason to visit their neighborhood libraries, and the cause has nothing to do with what’s in the books. Libraries have long been a source of nourishment, and with the help of the Virtual Supermarket Program (VSP), residents can now place grocery orders online for pick up at Enoch Pratt Free Library branches around the city.

VSP, a new initiative by the Baltimore City Health Department’s Baltimarket, has touched thousands of lives in the short time it has been operating. Locations for VSP currently include the Enoch Pratt branches in Cherry Hill, Orleans Street, Washington Village and at George Washington Elementary School. Designed to create access to healthy food for Baltimoreans, VSP is an oasis in the food deserts of lower-income neighborhoods where full scale grocery stores haven’t been seen in years.

“Food deserts,” or communities with no access to fresh, healthy food within one mile, have been an all-too-common sight from east to west in Baltimore City. Residents of these areas have few choices when it comes to food and often the most affordable options come in the form of canned, processed items from corner stores.

It’s no secret that Americans living in impoverished neighborhoods suffer disproportionately from diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and many other fatal disorders. This fact was not lost on VSP, as they chose the locations of their four drop-off sites according to what areas in the city had the highest mortality rates from these illnesses.

“Ordering from home represents the next evolution of the Virtual Supermarket Program’s model for increasing access to healthy foods in neighborhoods with no markets and low vehicle ownership,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Oxiris Barbot in a VSP press release. “Equally important, the online interface offers nutritional information so shoppers can make healthy choices,” he continued.

Last March, when VSP was introduced to select communities in East and West Baltimore, patrons placed orders on laptops provided by the library for those without internet access. After placing an order, patrons then came back the next day to pick up their groceries. This month, changes in the program even further simplified the process to accommodate the public. Starting this month, clients can place their orders to Santoni’s Supermarket from any computer with Internet access up until noon of the day they want to pick up their provisions.

“Baltimarket – VSP increases access to high quality, affordable groceries in the very neighborhood where people live, eliminating the difficulty and expense of securing transportation to distant stores,” said program coordinator Laura Fox.