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Santoni's Provides Free Grocery Shuttle For Baltimore Residents In Food Deserts

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—They're called "food deserts," and Baltimore's Health Department says one in five city residents live in one. That means no access to healthy and affordable food.

Ron Matz reports in East Baltimore that's about to change with a free ride to the grocery store.

A round of applause greeted Santoni's Supermarket shuttle service. The 13-seat bus will provide free rides to the family-owned grocery store in East Baltimore.

"We are suffering with diabetes and a plague of health issues. Allowing people to have free transportation to a grocery store is just mind boggling, and people are very excited about this," said Cynthis Gross, Monument McElderry Fayette Revitalization Plan board member.

Shoppers can sign up and be picked up in their neighborhood.

"We'll transport residents to and from Santoni's, let them do their food shopping and bring them back home," said Rob Santoni, Santoni's Supermarket. "The shuttle will run six days a week, every day but Wednesday. It has 13 seats. We have six or seven pick-up spots each day. We can service about 465 riders a week."

Residents of Apostolic Towers say their prayers have been answered.

"Sometimes it's tough to get to the supermarket if one of my children isn't available, so this is great. I can pick my day and go," said Catherine Williams, Apostolic Towers resident.

"Twenty percent of Baltimore is considered a food desert, an area that lacks access to healthy and affordable foods. This shuttle is going to be targeting our food desert communities in Baltimore City," said Laura Fox, Baltimore City Health Department. "It's about improving the access to healthy and affordable foods within our city, and this shuttle will be able to do that."

"For the past few years I have been trying to get a shuttle and Santoni's came on board as a partner," Gross said. "It means absolutely everything to the people in this community."

Santoni's says it expects strong demand for this service. In fact, they plan to add two more shuttles in the future.

"People are looking for dependable and inexpensive transportation," Santoni said. "A hack or sedan or taxi service can be 15 or 20 dollars round trip and that money would come out the food budget. With our service, seniors and the underserved can expand their food budget and eat healthier."

The supermarket shuttle will run every day but Wednesday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. with expanded evening hours possible during the summer.

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