Grants are now available through the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (PA FFFI), a program that invests in new or expanding grocery stores and other healthy food retail outlets in underserved neighborhoods across the Keystone State.
Several private and public organizations are involved in the statewide initiative, which is overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, administered by The Food Trust, and supported by program partners Reinvestment Fund, Bridgeway Capital and Community First Fund. The PA FFFI provides one-time grants or loans to food retailers to boost the availability of healthy, affordable foods for those living in underserved areas.
“We know that healthier communities create healthier economies, and research shows that the development or presence of a grocery store not only improves access to healthy foods but also creates jobs and stimulates additional investment,” noted Mark Edwards, CEO of The Food Trust, which is based in Philadelphia. “That’s why we’re so excited to be stewarding a new round of funding for the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative.”
During its original run, from 2004 to 2010, under Philadelphia-based Reinvestment Fund’s administration and with support from The Food Trust, the PA FFFI funded nearly 90 projects with more than $85 million in loans and grants. Since the program’s relaunch in 2018, 22 additional projects in Pennsylvania have received funding from the PA FFFI, with recipients ranging from large-scale urban grocers to smaller stores in rural communities.
One-time grants of as much $50,000 are available for eligible projects, along with further loans and business assistance. Past grants have helped with predevelopment costs; land assembly, including demolition and environmental remediation; site development; infrastructure improvement such as renovation; new construction or adaptive reuse; equipment purchases that improve the availability and quality of fresh produce; and innovative food access technology that aids the healthy food access efforts of an existing or new grocery store. The program’s partners review applications on a rolling basis and offer financing depending on the availability of funds.
Last year, Sprankle’s Neighborhood Market received funding for its stores in Kittanning and Saxonburg. The independent grocer also has a location in Leechburg.
“Feeding our community is the most honorable thing a grocer can strive to do,” said Doug Sprankle, owner of the Saxonburg store. “PA FFFI is the vessel that helps create that opportunity.”
Sprankle’s is a member of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, a statewide trade association that represents almost 800 convenience stores, supermarkets, independent grocers, wholesalers and consumer product vendors.
“We represent many members through PFMA who are working hard to deliver fresh food options in low-income communities, observed Alex Baloga, president and CEO of the Wormleysburg-based trade group. “These grants through the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative will help our members overcome potential financial barriers as they work to address the need for healthy and affordable food for their customers.”
Last year, Pennsylvania also directed $10 million in grants to state businesses that have worked to maintain access to fresh, healthy food throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. That grant money comes from the state’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative COVID-19 Relief Fund, which is funded via the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, better known as the CARES Act.