Food Access in Focus in Wheeling

Photos by Joselyn King Chet Parsons, project manager for AECOM of Morgantown, speaks with Karen Cox of the West Virginia University Extension during an open house to discuss access to healthy food options in Wheeling, Thursday at West Virginia Northern Community College.

In some Wheeling neighborhoods, the only local options for food are fast-food restaurants, gas stations or convenience stores.

Community groups in the city banded together Thursday to cultivate ideas on how to make access to healthy food options more accessible in Wheeling. The Belomar Regional Council, the city of Wheeling, the Ohio Valley Transportation Authority and Re-Invent co-sponsored a “public open house on food access” Thursday at West Virginia Northern Community College.

The city of Wheeling already has received a “Local Food, Local Places” grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — which should pay for all but $19,000 of the cost for a $199,000 study on how to improve local transportation, trails and infrastructure — according to Scott Hicks, executive director of the Belomar Regional Planning Council. The city of Wheeling, the OVRTA and Wheeling Heritage will share in the extra costs.

Belomar is managing the grant for local agencies.

“Our emphasis is on food, but also on getting people to where they need to go — such as banks or businesses,” Hicks said.

Jake Dougherty, executive director of Wheeling Heritage. termed portions of the city “food deserts” — places where there is no easy access to grocery stores or produce markets. The answer could lie with improving public transportation, adding walking trails or even just fixing sidewalks.

“We’re looking at how to increase accessibility to food, and looking at transit from neighborhoods to the right attractions,” he said.

Once the ideas are collected, these will be passed on to AECOM of Morgantown, which will formulate a plan to increase accessibility to food and other needs in Wheeling.

“We want people to avoid having to go to a fast food restaurant or gas station to get food,” said Chet Parsons, project manager with AECOM.