In an effort to provide affordable and healthy groceries to the community, the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) and Santoni’s Supermarket have partnered to create the Virtual Supermarket Project, which will allow residents to order groceries online and pick them up at the Orleans and Washington Village branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Santoni’s, one of the first full-service restaurants in Baltimore, is providing healthy foods for the initiative.

The sites are located in areas considered “food deserts,” due to the lack of competitively priced grocery stores. And with the recent closings of many grocery stores, the problem has become progressively worse.

“The driving force is knowing that there are certain areas in the city where there’s a lack of access to healthy, fresh foods,” said Olivia Farrow, interim commissioner of the BCHD. “We know that if people can’t access healthy, fresh foods then they’re more likely to eat unhealthy foods.

Farrow added that the department hopes the project will provide some means of access to healthier food options for those residents that do not have transportation. According to statistics released by BCHD’s Office of Epidemiology and Planning, communities surrounding the Washington Village and Orleans library branches are some of the most underserved “food desserts” in the city.

“We know people want healthy foods and access to full-service groceries, so we think that this is one way we can provide it.”

The project is funded with a $60,000 grant from President Barack Obama’s 2009 federal stimulus package and according to the health department’s Web site, plans to open more virtual supermarket locations are in the works.

The Baltimore City Health Department cites lack of healthy food outlets in the community as one of the primary causes of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease among city residents. Therefore, the department believes the imposed method of the virtual supermarket will be an important step towards ensuring that all consumers, regardless of location, income levels or race, can enjoy an assortment of healthy foods at affordable prices. 


Gregory Dale

AFRO News Editor