Texas has the lowest number of grocery stores per capita in the United States. The result is that more than 3.4 million Texans do not have easy access to retail sources of fresh fruits and vegetables in their communities, critically important tools in the effort to combat childhood obesity and improve health.
Recognizing that fact, Texas health advocates at the American Heart Association brought grassroots volunteers from throughout the state to Austin, the capital, for a day in March to meet with state lawmakers on the need for better grocery access in that state.
Wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Closer to My Grocer,” the advocates educated legislators and their staff s about the Texas Grocery Access Investment Act. The measure would create a program to provide grants and loans to retailers to open new grocery stores, or renovate or expand existing stores, in underserved areas.
Among the youth advocates were culinary arts students from Fort Worth who are learning to cook healthy foods at school, but have difficulty finding the ingredients in their neighborhoods, due to a lack of grocery stores.
“The kids all wanted to share their stories, and the legislators and their staff really listened. One Dallas legislator was very impressed — so impressed that he ended up pledging to support the measure although he had been undecided before,” says Victoria Nelson, grassroots director with Voices for Healthy Kids at the American Heart Association in Texas.
Nelson says that the day was very effective because of the real stories the volunteers brought to the capitol. “Our advocacy staff can talk to legislators, but it does not have near the impact as when volunteers and constituents do so,” she says.