SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Downtown Syracuse is known for some of the finest eats, treats, arts and tourist spots in Central New York. The area is home to Armory Square, Erie Canal Museum, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Centro Transit Hub and many more.
While downtown Syracuse may be a tourist’s dream, the area is home to some of Syracuse’s highest poverty levels and lowest median household incomes, according to the Onondaga County Health Department Syracuse Food Environment Report.
The Syracuse Neighbor Network defines downtown Syracuse as the area running west of I-81, south of I-690, east of Onondaga Creek and north of East Adams Street.
The Onondaga County Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plan (pg. 27) classifies the downtown Syracuse area as a food desert. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food Access Research Atlas defines a food desert as a census tract where the poverty rate is more than 20% and more than a third of residents are more than half a mile away from the nearest supermarket.
The Food Bank of Central New York has served as the food distribution hub in Central New York for more than 35 years. The food bank provides more than 20 million pounds of food each year to 11 different counties, but one of the food bank’s main service regions is the downtown Syracuse area.
The downtown area lacks reliable access to the fresh and healthy foods grocery stores and food banks offer. The Food Bank of CNY tries to remedy this issue by running a mobile food pantry program that delivers perishable goods to communities in need. The Food Bank Chief Development Officer Lynn Hy said the mobile food pantry program keeps a close eye on communities with unmet needs, namely downtown Syracuse.
“The mobile food pantry program, what we do is we look at the data we look at, you know, census data, we look at poverty statistics, we look at the partner agencies that we have in certain areas and say, ‘Okay, there seems to be a need here that’s not being met,'” Hy said.
Hy said the food bank stays connected and does its best to ensure all areas of the community are being appropriately served.
“We’re constantly having those community conversations and trying to be at the table, so we can continue to get food out into the areas that need it,” Hy said.
The Plymouth Church Food Pantry collaborates with the food bank as one of its many partner agencies. The food pantry has been serving the downtown Syracuse community for over 20 years. The Plymouth Church Food Pantry Coordinator Cyndi Signorelli said the pantry tries to help the struggling community get back on its feet by providing them with more than food options.
“We also try to provide toiletry items, soap and shampoo and toilet paper. And in the winter, we provide hats and gloves and socks and things like that,” Signorelli said. “We kind of take the burden off some of the other pantries and just kind of try to offer different things that we can.”
Another aid coming to the downtown Syracuse community is a new cooperative market. The new Syracuse Cooperative Market opened on April 29, on South Salina Street in downtown Syracuse. Syracuse Cooperative Market General Manager Jeremy DeChario said the Co-op is committed to providing accessible and affordable options to a community in need.
“Food apartheid is definitely something that we considered when siting this store, and for us, it’s really about providing a place where you can go every day and get fresh and healthy foods without having to figure out a way to get out to a larger corporate grocer,” DeChario said.
Food organizations in Syracuse are working together to address and ensure food security needs are being met for a rising downtown Syracuse population. While the fight for food security is far from over, these organizations are doing their part to ease the food desert issues for an underprivileged and struggling downtown Syracuse community.