Jefferson County Commission

Jefferson County Targets ARPA Funds Against Food Desert

Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales. 11.28.2023 (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

UPDATED — A Jefferson County allocation of ARPA funds could provide healthier grocery options for residents along the U.S. 78 corridor.

County commissioners on Thursday approved spending American Rescue Plan Act funds to address food insecurities. The pilot program supports a food pantry to create a low or no-cost grocery store.

Federal funds totaling $472,782.96 will enhance a program that’s in place and sponsored by Daniel Payne Legacy Village Foundation.

“It’s focused on areas where there’s no grocery store,” County Manager Cal Markert said. “If you’ve only got Dollar Generals and gas stations, there aren’t as many fresh fruits and vegetables. This will kind of try to supplement that and get packages of more healthy foods for families to have.”

The program is in the former Daniel Payne Middle School building at Cherry Avenue and Daniel Payne Drive. Lashunda Scales, the commissioner for that district, said the program is designed to serve persons within a 2-mile radius that includes Graysville, Forestdale, Fultondale, Adamsville and Docena, among other places.

“This pilot project, we are hoping, will stimulate for an anchor store that will ultimately be located there. Right now, if you’re in Forestdale (and) if you have limited or no transportation, you have to go down Highway 78 in order to get to Walmart,” Scales said. “Outside of that, you only have access to convenience stores, which typically charge three to four times what you would pay for something very small in a Walmart or a Kroger’s.”

Daniel Payne Plaza (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The foundation is launching the program in partnership with Goodr Grocery Store, which helps outfit and supply food for local partners. The Goodr Grocery Store takes the free grocery “shopping” experience directly to schools, community centers, senior homes and other easily accessible sites.

Scales said 80% of the ARPA funds will go directly to purchasing food and necessary items for recipients.

“I think that’s something that is to be smiled upon because typically we’re paying more than 10% in order to be able to manage (a program),” she said. “In this instance, you’re only talking about $22,500 over two years – $45,000 – in order to be able to administer the program. It’s very cost efficient.”

Scales added that the program is set to have a workforce development component that will get students involved.

“They too can be a participant in helping to meet the needs of the community,” she said, “and then receiving a little small stipend or whatever for their participation.”

Commissioner Sheila Tyson said she was interested in getting a similar program in her district, though Scales pointed out that the program will go only into well-defined food deserts. Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the county should be looking for other areas where such programs are needed.

Zoning Violations

Stephens during the commission’s Tuesday earlier in the week challenged Director of Development Services Josh Johnson and others to fully enforce the county’s more stringent zoning ordinance, which increased the penalty for violations.

As a result of recent state legislation, the commission was able to make violating the county’s zoning ordinance a Class B misdemeanor, an action taken in October. Such violations are now punishable by as much as 180 days in jail and a fine of as much as $3,000. Previously, the penalty was a $100 fine and no more than 10 days in jail.

Stephens’ primary concern is bingo establishments, which are illegal in unincorporated Jefferson County.

“There is no acceptable zoning for an illegal action,” Stephens said. “I was checking the progress because I received a call yesterday, asking about the progress. I assured the caller that I would make that (request) in a public meeting so that everyone would be able to see that the county is doing what they said they were gonna do as far as upholding law,” he said. “You have to make sure that that is carried out. That was my assurance.”