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Dorothy McAuliffe stops in Roanoke to kick off YMCA program combating food deserts

Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe visits the YMCA to announce a new initiative.

ROANOKE, Va. (WSET) -- Virginia is no stranger to food deserts. A study by Virginia Tech and Virginia State University shows that almost 18 percent of the state and almost 27 percent of people in Lynchburg don't have access to nutritious food.

However, a new program spearheaded by Delegate Sam Rasoul and the YMCA of Roanoke Valley hopes to change that.

YMCA of Roanoke Valley's Vice President of Operations Jackie Grant explained the program, saying "We envision that there be food that's grown locally and that with the YMCA's refrigeration truck that we can help deliver the food to places that don't have access."

Nada Melki owns the corner store at 11th St. NW and Orange Avenue in Roanoke. Right now, she is the only store to have signed on to the program, but offering healthy food options isn't new for her store. Melki explained, "I do carry the bananas and apples and oranges. I try to get vegetables also."

Arthur Hill runs the gardening program at the YMCA. He says some of the kids he works with have never even seen vegetables before. "I was kind of surprised that they didn't know what broccoli looked like growing," Hill remarked.

That's why Melki knew she wanted to be the first corner store to sign onto the Y's new initiative to combat food deserts.

Once the program starts, YMCA staff say they envision their refrigerated truck picking up produce from local farmers and delivering to corner stores in a food desert. The Y says they are going to start with District 25, which includes many food deserts, including the Gainsboro neighborhood.

It's a program Virginia's First Lady, Dorothy McAuliffe, says she hopes does well. "For so many of our communities, corner stores are the only viable point of market right now. And we need to make sure that we can continue to look at ways that we can bring more grocery stores into our food deserts, but for now corner stores are a wonderful option," McAuliffe said.

So does Melki, because she knows for her customers, she's their grocery store because many don't have cars. "They come and they say thank you, thank you. You are open, what do I do if you're not open? They come and get their milk, their bread, their eggs, their breakfast items, their fruits and vegetables."

The YMCA says they hope to have the program fully functional by summer.

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