Published November 25, 2014

An oasis in the food deserts of Arizona

During the Thanksgiving season, our minds are filled with visions of plates brimming with food. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and produce galore comprise the meals of our dreams. But what if your holiday dinner could only be created from food found at local convenience stores and quick marts? What if fresh produce, or in some cases even grocery stores, weren’t accessible?

That’s the reality for many Americans, who live in areas called “Food Deserts.” Food deserts are defined by a lack of grocery stores and healthy food providers and are usually found in impoverished neighborhoods. The lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other healthy ingredients, perpetuates the obesity epidemic in America and gives rise to many of the chronic conditions that tax our healthcare system today.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies across the country are committed to creating healthier communities and are working to help Americans gain access to the kinds of food they need to live healthier, more active lives. This collective support is a demonstration of the Power of Blue – the power to make a difference in the communities we serve – at work.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arizona, which serves a population that includes hundreds of thousands of food desert residents, has taken on this challenge by joining with several area businesses to partner with the Discovery Triangle Development Corp. to launch a new mobile food initiative called the Fresh Express.

The Fresh Express is a retired city bus that has been given new life as a mobile produce market, traveling to underserved neighborhoods to sell fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables. The retrofitted bus travels to schools, senior centers, parks, churches and other community gathering places in the Discovery Triangle to provide access to fresh, affordable produce.

Discovery Triangle is a redevelopment initiative that focuses on a 25-squaremile region in the urban cores of Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona, which is considered a food desert.

Providing this mobile option is of significant value as many of these metro residents are dependent on public transportation to reach grocery stores. Fresh Express allows residents to purchase fruits and vegetables at convenient, nearby locations.

To further assist area residents, produce is sold at cost and residents can pay with cash, debit/credit cards and even SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards. Fresh Express also features onboard health resources such as nutrition education, healthy food demonstrations and health screenings.

Fresh Express not only provides underserved members of the community convenient access to fresh produce, it empowers them to learn make healthier choices for lifelong health and wellness.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are making positive, measurable changes to the healthcare system. Through the Power of Blue, we are improving healthcare access, enabling healthier living, and improving healthcare quality and affordability, giving families more security – and more freedom – as they look to the future. To learn about other ways Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are extending The Power of Blue to make a difference in our local communities, download the full Investing in America’s Health report.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of 36 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield companies.