New Service Lets Underserved Baltimoreans Shop by Web

People who live in two Baltimore communities with a dearth of supermarkets are now able to purchase groceries through a Web-based program that requires them to travel no farther than their local libraries.

Introduced by the Baltimore City Health Department as a pilot last year, the Virtual Supermarket Project provides laptops from which neighborhood residents can order groceries online from Santoni’s Super Market in Highlandtown and pick them up the following day at either the Orleans Street or Washington Village branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The libraries are in East and West Baltimore’s largest “food deserts,” offering little in the way of grocery stores and healthful food choices.

Accepted forms of shopper payment include cash, checks, credit cards and food stamps. The program submits one aggregate Internet order per session, and the City Health Department subsidizes the delivery charge. A $60,000 federal stimulus grant is funding the initiative for six months.

“This program will make these neighborhoods stronger and healthier, allowing residents the same access to full-service, competitively priced grocery stores that much of the rest of the city enjoys,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

“In many densely populated cities, including Baltimore, residents of some communities must choose between shopping at small corner stores that lack fresh produce or paying a premium for a ride far outside their area. This is not a fair choice,” added interim health commissioner Olivia D. Farrow. “We are hoping that if this program is successful, we can partner with more grocery stores and expand the program to other areas of Baltimore where there is need.”

“There are few inner-city grocery stores, and Santoni’s Super Market in Highlandtown is an innovator in Baltimore online grocery retailing through [its] Web site,” said area grocery expert Jeremy Diamond of the Baltimore-based Diamond Group. Diamond further noted that owner Rob Santoni is also head of the Maryland Food Dealer’s Council.
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