BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - People in East Biloxi say that for a long time they have felt forgotten about. There’s is no grocery store in the area, which has some people labeling that part of the city a "food desert.”
The newly opened Rouses is a good attraction for Gulfport and people looking to spend cash in the revamped store, but people in East Biloxi can’t help but wonder when or if they will get a grand opening of any store in their community.
“We need to breathe new life into this community,” said Kay Horne, a long-time resident of East Biloxi.
One of the reasons this area has a hard time attracting potential developers is because of the socioeconomic demographic that makes up East Biloxi. According to city officials, the majority of residents living on housing assistance live in this part of the city.
There are still residents who are old enough to remember a time when East Biloxi had several local shops to serve the neighborhood.
“People that have been living here on this peninsula have been here for a while and remember when we had Delchamps and Big Star, and we had other grocery stores,” said Biloxi NAACP President James Crowell.
“There used to be barber shops across the street, other businesses up and down Main Street, but now there is no life,” Horne said about the neighborhood.
Horne doesn't want to be denied a community market based on her neighbor's average income or the condition of the area. She fears if the neglect continues, the neighborhood will fall to total ruin.
“We need something to happen in East Biloxi. We need something to motivate people to want to come, motivate children if they leave to want to come back,” Horne said.
Several organizations, including the NAACP and the East Biloxi Community Collaborative, have been working with the city and other agencies to remedy this problem that affects so many people.
There are some grocery stores in East Biloxi, like Lee’s International Market, which primarily serves the Asian and Latino communities.
Some say the Food Giant on Porter Avenue is slightly more expensive than other markets and that there are people who take advantage of the bi-weekly farmer’s market underneath the Interstate 110 bridge.
“(The farmer’s market is) good too. That’s good too, but we need more,” Horne said.
According to Feeding America, a hunger relief nonprofit organization, 17.5% of the population in Harrison County, or about 35,000 people, suffers from food insecurity. Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
That trend of food insecurity has greater effects when race is considered.
“Black communities have high incidences of heart trouble, high blood pressure and diabetes,” Crowell said.
Most of the food that’s readily available in nearby mini marts and corner stores is processed with no nutritional value.
“If we had a store with a better selection of vegetables and a variety of things to choose from, that would help,” Crowell added.
Even though it’s about a 15 minute drive from East Biloxi to the Walmarts in D’Iberville or West Biloxi, many of the older residents simply don’t have the means of getting around to shop there.
“It requires changing buses, and all of that and these older people can’t do that,” Crowell said.
The needs of the elderly have been a major reason as to why there have been talks with the city to bring or relocate a grocer and pharmacy closer to the area.
An empty lot on the corner of Division and Caillavet streets is thought to be a good place for a store.
It’s city-owned property that sits at a busy intersection between the hotels and a residential area across the street from Quality Seafood. The close proximity to another store concerns some people.
“That is a little bit too close to Lee’s market,” Horne said. She doesn’t want the competition from another store to take away from a minority entrepreneur that has already come to our community.
People said getting a good grocery store in the area that serves the whole community is one step toward what could come in the area, a step that could bring jobs, resources and a better quality of life overall.
According to The Food Trust, people who live within a few miles of a grocery store tend to have lower rates of diet-related health problems and deaths than those who do not.