As part of her campaign to battle childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the site of a future grocery store in Inglewood on Wednesday and spoke about the importance of bringing fresh food to disadvantaged communities.
The market, which will open in April in an empty warehouse on South Prairie Avenue, is part of a statewide push to reduce obesity by attracting grocers to low-income neighborhoods and making healthy food more accessible.
"I'm here today because I believe every family in our country should have access to healthy food," she said to a group of community residents and leaders. "When we bring healthy food into our communities, we are not just making this generation of kids healthier, but we are working on the next and the next and the next."
Obama said parents shouldn't have to travel by bus or taxi to find a place to buy fruit for their children's lunches. "It sounds so simple -- a place that sells healthy food at reasonable prices so they can feed their families," she said.
After climbing for many years, obesity rates around the nation have started to level off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The California FreshWorks Fund -- a coalition of health organizations, banks and groceries -- has committed $264 million in public-private loans to help the stores get underway. The nonprofit California Endowment is leading the food financing initiative.
"FreshWorks is helping to ensure that every neighborhood gets the healthy food choices that its people need, want and deserve," said Robert K. Ross, president and chief executive of the California Endowment.
Inglewood Mayor James Butts said the grocery store is desperately needed. Many of the residents in the city suffer diabetes and hypertension that could be better controlled with the availability of more fresh food.
"If you take a look out on the street here, as far as the eye can see, there are no healthy, affordable food options," he said. "For too long, this very lot sat empty."
The store will also bring jobs to Inglewood, Butts added. "Not only will this store make our families healthy, but it will make our economy healthier too," he said.
Northgate Gonzalez Markets, a franchise started by a Mexican immigrant in 1980, will receive $20 million in financing to open the Inglewood store, a market in City Terrace on the Eastside and one in South Los Angeles. For Wednesday's event, Northgate set up bins of fruits and vegetables and shelves of cereal, juices and rice. After the speeches, residents filled up bags with free groceries.
Inglewood teacher Melody Pogue, 46, said the grocery store will be a great addition to the city. Many of her students' families will be able to walk to the market rather than traveling elsewhere to get food or relying on fast food or corner stores for their meals.
"We are always trying to promote health at school, so this is wonderful," she said.