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Rural residents rely on dwindling number of grocery stores

Rural towns look to increase food access
Rural towns look to increase food access 02:33

Allen County, Kansas — Millions of Americans are facing a growing problem of so-called food deserts. With America's rural population shrinking, grocery stores in many of those areas are closing. 

At least 40 million Americans live in food deserts nationwide. In rural areas, that means residents live at least 10 miles from a grocery store and 20% are low-income. 

Unlike many grocery stores in rural America, St. Paul, Kansas has one that will never shut its doors. James and Kelly Voorhies run the only local market, but the city owns it — a unique arrangement to keep food available. 

Jane O'Brien, who lived in the small city when there wasn't a grocery store, said it was "pretty rough." 

"You learn to pack coolers with you everywhere you went because we're literally 17 miles to the next Walmart, closest grocery store," O'Brien told CBS News. 

The irony is, even though many rural communities are surrounded by farmland growing fresh food, there's little access to it. 

Tracy Keagle's Humanity House in Iola, Kansas, feeds close to 2,000 people per month. But rural pantries aren't as plentiful as they are in cities. 

When Loren and Regena Lance learned their grocery store in Mildred, Kansas, could close, they bought it. If the grocery store did not exist, "most of them would have to drive at least 30 minutes in any direction to get" groceries, Regena Lance told CBS News. 

Along with fresh produce and the usual grocery fare, they brought in nostalgic foods and turned the deli into a destination lunch spot. Then, they added a dance hall. 

"Originally, it was to save the local store, and then it's metamorphosed into so much more," Regena Lance said. 

Starved for food access, small towns are increasingly relying on themselves. 

"There's never a day that goes by that somebody doesn't say, 'Hey, we really appreciate you being here,'" Regena Lance said. 

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