Micro-grocery opens inside Sister Visitor

Teenagers, from left, Scott O’Neil, Paris Klmez, Alain Kagaba, Jordan Burns and Taylor Thompson participated in a team-building exercise July 12 during the week-long Christian Leadership Institute held at the Flaget Center, 1935 Lewiston Drive. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

People in the Portland and Russell communities struggling to afford rent, utilities, prescriptions, clothing and nourishment have for nearly 50 years found help at Sister Visitor Center in West Louisville.

The Catholic Charities agency located in a storefront at 2235 West Market St. is expanding its offerings with the addition of a low-cost retail space that sells fresh-frozen meat and produce.

“It will provide our families with a closer area to shop and save money. Prices are going to be less expensive than at the regular grocery store and we’re open five days a week. We’re pretty accessible and we’re on the busline,” said Sister Intravia, an Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph who directs the center.

The retail space, called the Oasis, is operated by Dare to Care and is supported by Cash Saver Cost Plus Food Store, Catholic Charities and Louisville Metro’s Louisville Forward.

The partners, who held a news conference and opening ceremony July 12, said they hope the Oasis provides relief in the midst of what they call a food desert in West Louisville.

Near the intersection of 22nd and West Market streets, the Oasis is the nearest grocer within at least a mile. Aside from Dare to Care’s Tuesday produce deliveries at Sister Visitor, affordable and healthy options are hard to reach in this community that relies on public transportation and foot travel, said Sister Intravia.

The Oasis is just inside the front door of Sister Visitor in a space that previously held an office. Now it’s occupied by a commercial freezer and refrigerator with glass doors — just like those in a traditional grocery store. Inside them are packaged foods, such as two-pound bags of frozen vegetables priced at $2 and 10 pounds of chicken leg quarters for $5. The store also stocks oatmeal, seasonings and recipes for healthy cooking.

On opening day, shelves also held piles of lemons. Everyone who comes to the Oasis may have a free lemon, which organizers say can make a satisfying substitute for salt.

“We do sell a ton of salt,” in West Louisville, said Matt Dills, chief operating officer of Buehler’s Cash Saver, which operates a grocery off Algonquin Parkway in Park DuValle and others in the Louisville area. “You can get a free lemon per day, take it home and use it as a ‘salt-ernative.’ … It gives the same flavor profile as salt.”

Dills said at the opening day news conference that the idea for the Oasis developed in 2016 when he saw the straitened means of some people in West Louisville while opening the Cash Saver store in Park DuValle.

After discovering homeless and hungry people burning trash for warmth outside the new store, he said, he quickly learned about the challenges impoverished people face — from limitations on where they can get help to transportation and access to affordable foods that are healthy.

“We want people to get access to food all day everyday,” Dills said.

To that end, the Oasis will also give away free rice and bean meals — one per day — “no questions asked,” Dills said at the news conference.  The meals will be made by Common Table, a culinary training program operated by Catholic Charities.

The micro grocery also has a beverage dispenser that offers fruit flavored water rather than sugary drinks, Dills noted. The drinks will be free for the first six months. Visitors just need to bring a cup.

Brian Riendeau, executive director of Dare to Care, said during the press conference that families in the area sometimes choose between paying rent and buying food.

“This is an answer to a tough question — can I feed my family?”

The Oasis is a pilot program, he said. If it succeeds Dare to Care will try it in other areas.

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