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Columbia hopes to turn old buses into mobile food markets

The city is looking for citizen input for how to approach the issue.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Imagine having to choose between gas and groceries because you have to travel nearly 10 miles to get to the nearest grocery store.

“I grocery shop three times a week. Groceries are so high nowadays; you can only buy enough for two days or three days," Columbia resident Derek Johnson said. “It takes me approximately 15 to 20 minutes to get to my nearest grocery store," he said.

Unfortunately, for many people in the Midlands, this is reality.

“We have to go so far to get groceries and stuff like that. It would be a real convenience to just come right down the street, Columbia resident Annie Mering said. "If we stay on this side of town, we have to go that way to the other side." 

After nearly 5 years of planning, the Columbia Community Development committee is one step closer to putting its plan for food insecurity into action.

According to Columbia City Council Member Tina Herbert, this issue could have a solution soon.

“We’re about to what I call it put the RFP out on the street, which is the request for proposals, and we’re giving people the opportunity to be able to submit some ideas,” she said.

The City of Columbia is looking to turn old-school buses into food markets.

“We really want a mobile market but we’re open to other solutions," Herbert said. "This process has taken quite a while, like you said, it’s taken years. We’re just really excited we have the ARPA funding to actually fund it." 

The idea originally came from Charleston, where during the pandemic, the city sent out school buses that were converted into mobile food markets.

While Columbia will likely only have one bus, it will travel from zip code to zip code each week to provide fresh produce for community members.

The project will serve the zip codes considered food deserts in Columbia.

City council is looking to accept community input as soon as the next community development meeting on February 7th.

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