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First Lady Michelle Obama visits Inglewood to promote food access

February 1, 2012 | 12:36 pm

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First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated the effort to bring fresh food to impoverished neighborhoods during a visit Wednesday to an abandoned warehouse in Inglewood, where a new grocery store is set to open in April.

The market is part of a statewide push to reduce obesity by attracting grocers to disadvantaged communities and making healthy food more accessible.

“I’m here today because I believe every family in our country should have access to healthy food,” she said. “When we bring healthy food into our communities, we are not just making this generation of kids healthier, but we are working on the next and the next and the next.”

The California FreshWorks Fund -– a coalition of health organizations, banks and groceries -– has committed $264 million in public-private loans to help the stores get underway. The California Endowment is leading the food financing initiative.

“Freshworks is helping to ensure that every neighborhood gets the healthy food choices that its people need, want and deserve,” said Robert K. Ross, president and chief executive of the California Endowment.

Inglewood Mayor James Butts said the grocery store -– which will be on South Prairie Avenue -– is desperately needed. Many of the residents in the city suffer diabetes and hypertension that could be better controlled with the availability of more fresh food, he said.

“If you take a look out on the street here, as far as the eye can see, there are no healthy, affordable food options,” he said. “For too long, this very lot sat empty.”

The store will also bring jobs to Inglewood, Butts added. “Not only will this store make our families healthy, but it will make our economy healthier too.”

Northgate Gonzalez Markets will receive $20 million in financing to open the Inglewood store and two other markets in City Heights and South Los Angeles. For Wednesday’s event, the market franchise set up bins of fruits and vegetables and shelves of cereal, juices and rice. Following the speeches, residents filled up bags with free groceries.

Inglewood teacher Melody Pogue, 46, said the grocery store will be a great addition to the city. Many of her students’ families will be able to walk to the market rather than traveling elsewhere to get food, or relying on fast food or corner stores for their meals.

“We are always trying to promote health at school, so this is wonderful,” she said.

Access to fresh food has long been a problem in low-income neighborhoods around California. Nearly 4.4 million Californians live where they have limited or no access to healthy food, according to a study by the nonprofit organization Social Compact.

The push for grocery stores in so-called “food deserts” is part of Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce childhood obesity.

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-- Anna Gorman

Photo: First lady Michelle Obama arrives at the future site of a Northgate Market in Inglewood. Credit: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

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