3 On Your Side: Finding food in a food desert - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

3 On Your Side: Finding food in a food desert

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- How often does your weekend begin with a trip to the market? That trip has gotten tougher for some of your neighbors since Food Lion closed hundreds of stores across the country back in January.

Seven were here in Chattanooga, with Food Lion blaming tougher competition and low sales.

But those closings have left more neighborhoods without a full service supermarket.       

So where are those folks getting their groceries -- especially if they're paying for them with food stamps?

Channel 3 "On Your Side" looks at a new mom and pop market that is trying to fill the void, and we're asking why Uncle Sam won't let customers pay with anything but cash .

"It's a hassle because I have to walk, and catch the bus," says Linda ‘Brown Sugar' Buttram. "I need it where I can get it right close by."

Close by, for Linda and most of Avondale, has been Mimi's Mini Market and Deli on Glass Street.

Mimi and Imad Rassas will sell you the chips, the soft drinks, and the candy. But there's a hitch.

"I'm trying to get the food stamps, so they can get their produce, their meat, the milk the eggs their deli," says Mimi.

All of which they've offered since opening a month and a half ago.

But in a neighborhood where three quarters of the customers depend on food stamps, "I'm losing customers, and I'm losing customers because they can't buy it."

"I'd be here all the time," says Buttram.

Quinzell Beasley's mom, too. "I guess she's gotta go across town to Walmart on Brainerd. That's the only way," she notes.

And then comes the irony.

"We got the beer license on day one but the food stamps, I don't know what's taken so long," explains Mimi Rassas.

Letters from the Agriculture Department say they needed to stock more dairy and other grocery items. But they don't know whether that's a deal killer. So we called the regional office in Atlanta, to find out for ourselves.

A spokeswoman says privacy rules prevent the USDA from telling us about specific cases. But a store won't qualify to accept food stamps unless it offers at least three choices in each of the staple food groups:  meats, breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables and dairy.

Mimi Rassas believes she qualifies, saying that those foods account for more than half of their total sales, including gasoline and services.

"We're waiting on it, we've filled it out and still are waiting," she says.

What worries the Rassas' most is failing to qualify. They'd have to wait another six months to re-apply, and she's not sure the bottom line can hold out that long.

The USDA does allow applicants to check their status on line, but on this Friday afternoon the system was down.

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