Bingo’s Market: Simple Solution to a Big Problem

Ian Ennis, Director of Food Insecure Programming

One of the basic tenets of human life is food. It gives us the energy we need to go about our daily tasks, provides emotional comfort and conjures memories of meals with family and friends. Food is one of the fundamental pieces of our physical, mental and emotional health, but as we enter a new decade, with seemingly thousands of food options around us, there is an ever-widening disconnect between people and their food.

As Chattanooga continues to grow, both with new businesses and individuals flocking to the River City, many are being left behind when it comes to accessing healthy, affordable food. According to statistics collected in 2017 from Feeding America, 13.5% of the population of Hamilton County is identified as food insecure, a full 1% higher than the national food insecurity rate of 12.5%. Conservative estimates suggest close to 50,000 people in Hamilton County live in a food desert. Furthermore, there is a 15% increase in the chances of contracting a chronic disease like cardiovascular disease or diabetes simply depending on where they live – in some part due to their access to healthy, affordable food. This leads to a myriad of problems that affect us all, including rising health care costs, as well as decreased school and work attendance/productivity.

Thousands of people in the United States live in food-insecure areas known as food deserts. A food desert is any place where residents don’t have access to a traditional grocery store within a one-mile radius of their home. This access is further restricted by a lack of transportation and limited mobility for many of our most vulnerable populations. Even for those who can make it to a grocery store, the nutritional value of affordable foods has decreased significantly due to the increase in highly processed foods.

There are many living and working in Chattanooga who are able to stop by their local grocery store on the way home from work and pick up fresh, healthy ingredients to make dinner for their family, but this is not the reality for thousands of people living in Hamilton County. As the food desert map of Chattanooga has grown over the years, the city has come together to try to eradicate some of these inequities.

One of these responses is the Bingo’s Market program from the James A. Henry Community YMCA. Bingo’s Market is a nonprofit healthy grocery store located at 1080 Georgia Ave. in a major food desert in the middle of downtown Chattanooga. The program opened its doors to the public on Nov. 5, 2019 and it has seen increased growth every month in not only sales, but in partnerships and community engagement as well.

Bingo’s Market built its foundation on health conscious grocery goods (milk, eggs, bread, etc.) and fresh, local (when available) produce. As the needs of the community have grown, however, so has the program. Since Bingo’s is a YMCA nonprofit program, it employs a nonprofit pricing structure to make sure it’s providing affordable pricing to those it serves. Bingo’s Market partners with local businesses like Laughing Sprouts, Alms + Fare and Mad Priest that provide their goods at a discounted rate to help provide access to those that may not have the opportunity otherwise.

Another way Bingo’s Market provides affordable pricing is by offering programs like EBT Double Down, which provides free produce to those that use SNAP benefits, as well as a recipe of the week (where every ingredient can be purchased at Bingo’s Market for under $10 and feed a family). Bingo’s also provides a resource center with information for our partner programs, which address all facets of health, including education, job training, HIV/STIs, mental health, primary care and more. Bingo’s Market also hosts monthly community engagement events, called Neighborhood Coffee Talks, designed to create and foster a sense of community between people living and working in downtown Chattanooga.

Bingo’s Market started with a simple solution to a major problem – providing the community with affordable access to healthy food. It is not only a grocery store and community space, but a holistic health resource designed to meet the needs of everyone living and working in Chattanooga. The program, and its goods and services, are open to all, regardless of food insecurity status. As we enter the new decade, Bingo’s Market and the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga will continue to work towards eradicating the inequities of our most vulnerable populations while opening our doors to all that want to support our work within the community.

Bingo’s Market will continue serving the community at normal business hours during the COVID-19 crisis. To ensure all staff and customers are safe, they are taking precautions as prescribed by the CDC and the Hamilton County Health Department.

During this time, the YMCA is asking the community to help them keep programs like Bingo’s Market thriving. One of the best ways to do so is by keeping your YMCA membership.

Make an independent donation or support a specific program here or support one of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga branches here.

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