Student-led civic project comes to life with passage of food equity resolution

Wednesday April 27th, 2022 by Kali Bramble

The students with the St. Edward’s University Civics Lab celebrated the fruits of their labor last Wednesday as members of City Council prepared to spend a resolution that would link public transportation infrastructure to food equity initiatives.

The resolution, which passed unanimously (with Council Member Leslie Pool off the stage), directs the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority to integrate mapping of full-service grocery stores across multiple transportation platforms and to take food equity into account in the future development of public transit.

“I was so impressed with the Civics Lab students who came to Council and testified. For them to highlight an issue in our community and find a solution is amazing,” said Board Member Vanessa Fuentes. “Their work is especially meaningful to the community I represent…as prosperous as we are, we still have food deserts here in Austin where families travel at least 20 minutes to get to a grocery store.”

The Civics Lab’s work began when students were confronted with a jarring statistic: Nearly 15% of Austin residents are food insecure and 33% live more than a mile from the convenience store. nearest complete. For low-income families who rely on Capital Metro for transportation, it can be difficult to meet basic needs, especially for the elderly and disabled.

Thursday’s resolution directs city staff to develop maps outlining routes to full-service grocery stores and integrate SNAP service providers across multiple platforms, including in-vehicle brochures, information centers for terminals and the CapMetro application. Staff will also explore setting up audio and visual cues to alert passengers to healthy food stops in real time.

Regarding the broader ambitions of the Civics Lab, the resolution includes an amendment to that of Austin Strategic mobility plan emphasizing the need to bring food access issues to the forefront of future transit conversations. Staff will also begin a study on food access, commissioning city resources to continue student research and provide data to policy makers. With the momentum that surrounds Connect Project investments, the students hope this could eventually result in expanded routes and increased frequency of existing routes to grocery stores.

In addition to its partnerships with the city, the Civics Lab has cultivated partnerships with various stakeholders, including the American Heart Association, Keep Austin Fed, Sustainable Food Center, Central Texas Food Bank, Go Austin/Vamos Austin, and Del Valle ISD, all come to show their support.

“As you all know, learning is supported by good nutrition and access to healthy foods,” said Christopher Weddle of Del Valle ISD, where a number of Austin’s food deserts are centered. “In our district, there is actually not a single full-service grocery store…this also impacts the hiring of educators and can be a challenge for those who want to live here.”

City Manager Spencer Cronk will return to council for an update on the initiative within the next 90 days. After that, it will be up to Capital Metro to bring the resolution to fruition.

“I would like to point out that the hardest part in all of this is the implementation,” Mayor Steve Adler said as St. Edward student Benjamin Alford left the podium. “So don’t think today’s vote got you there. Stay with us.”

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