The Return of the Virtual Supermarket

Jul 30, 2014

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (center) giving change to a customer of the re-launched Virtual Supermarket program. Rawlings-Blake and Interim Health Commissioner Dr. Jacquelyn Duval-Harvey helped deliver groceries to residents at Cherry Hill Senior Manor as part of the re-launch.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

Baltimore City officials re-launched an online grocery shopping program called the Virtual Supermarket Wednesday nearly a year after the program’s original grocery store partner closed its doors.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who helped make the first deliveries, said the city has partnered with Collins ShopRite to provide the service to neighborhoods classified as food deserts. Collins ShopRite operates one store in Glen Burnie and three in the Philadelphia area.

Under the program, residents place their grocery orders online with the assistance of community volunteers called Neighborhood Food Advocates.  ShopRite employees then deliver the groceries to a central point in the neighborhood.

United Way of Central Maryland and the Walmart Foundation pick up the delivery fees.

Initially, the program will operate at the Cherry Hill Senior Manor and the Cherry Hill branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. City officials plan to expand the program to other neighborhoods eventually.

Mary Powell, a life-long resident of Cherry Hill and an advocate, said she was happy about the return of the Virtual Supermarket.  She was a participant in the program for three years until Santoni’s Supermarket, the original partner, closed in October 2013.

Powell said she is happy to have the program back and is getting her neighbors involved.  “I’ll knock on any door and if they need help, I’ll help them,” she said.  Powell hopes the program is expanded to help Cherry Hill residents who are not able to get to the library or the Senior Manor complex.

Food deserts are neighborhoods where residents are not within walking distance to fresh groceries.

Dr. Jacquelyn Duval-Harvey, the city’s interim health commissioner, said the lack of access to healthy food as well as a lack of transportation options and information on nutrition contributes to health problems in Baltimore.

“The further one lives from a supermarket, the greater the likelihood they will have an unhealthy diet and ultimately become obese,” she said.

Rawlings-Blake said children and the elderly are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to healthy, affordable food.

The city also launched a new website – baltimarket.org – that provides information on where to buy fresh groceries.