WASHINGTON--A Chicago non-profit won a $3 million federal grant for "food desert" projects, with interest in making healthy food available in underserved areas ramping up as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and First Lady Michelle Obama headline an Oct. 25 food summit in Chicago.
Last month, the Treasury Department awarded IFF, a non-profit lender and real estate consultant in Chicago's Loop the $3 million grant to, according to an IFF release, "fund a pipeline of retail projects to improve access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods classified as "food deserts."
The IFF will use the money for "an initial emphasis on full-service, for-profit grocery stores in "food deserts" around Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City," the release said.
The money came from the federal Health Foods Financing Initiative, a funding stream championed by Mrs. Obama as part of her "Let's Move" campaign to end childhood obesity.
IFF President Trinita Logue served on Emanual's mayoral transition Government Reinvention and Budget committee. IFF Vice President Jose Cerda III was a domestic policy advisor in the Clinton White House, serving with Emanuel.
"We think we were awarded this grant because of the work we have already done on health food financing," Cerda told me, "and we are excited to work with the mayor and the governor on their initiatives. This will directly compliment their efforts."
"The summit will be an opportunity to share best practices and explore new strategies that mayors can implement to support communities that lack the food they need," said Mrs. Obama spokesman Hannah August in a statement.
Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell had the City Hall food summit scoop. The gathering will include mayors from 10 cities, CEOS of groceries and pharmacies and urban agriculture experts. Emanuel told Mitchell that Mrs. Obama will visit Chicago communities to see the "different ideas and challenges."
If Mrs. Obama stops in any Chicago neighborhood, it will mark her first non-fund-raising, non-personal visit to the city since becoming First Lady.
Eddie Gehman Kohan, the founder of Obamafoodorama, the website of record on food and food policy in the Obama White House, first wrote about the IFF grant. She also had this additional scoop: The Chicago food summit day will "also include a seasonal, locally sourced luncheon for participants at a small restaurant, created by unidentified chefs."
From Kohan on the federal grant program: That's where the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) comes in. It is an interagency project involving the Departments of the Treasury, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services, which is now offering grants to inspire corporations that are willing to build in food deserts. On September 14th, the Treasury announced $25 million in grants for FY 2011, for 12 food desert projects in 9 states under its Community Development Financial Institutions Fund.
"HFFI represents the federal government's first coordinated step to eliminate "food deserts" by promoting a wide range of interventions that expand the supply of and demand for nutritious foods, including increasing the distribution of agricultural products; developing and equipping grocery stores; and strengthening producer-to-consumer relationships," noted the Treasury's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund when announcing the awards."
"...Emanuel's brother, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, did double duty as an advisor to the Let's Move! team while at the White House as a special health care advisor to the President. He departed earlier this year."